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Cortado: El café de tu barrio


A cortado from North Dodge Coffeehouse , 2790 N Dodge St, Iowa City. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

“Me dio tanto gusto verlo que le propuse tomar un café.” –Vargas Llosa, “La tía Julia y el escribidor”

Los cafés, o también llamados coffee shops, son lugares que funcionan muy temprano por la mañana. Algunos de estos tienen buena iluminación, pero también están los que tienen una luz suave y tenue, la cual brinda un aire de intimidad, algo ideal para conversar con alguien especial o, simplemente, para leer un libro. Y, por supuesto, siempre acompañado de una buena taza de café.

Los baristas son una especie de artesanos de esta bebida negra y agridulce. Ellos constantemente están revisando el molido y el sabor del café, la temperatura y la espuma de la leche, la presión de la máquina Marzocco, etc., para así conseguir el resultado deseado: extraer cafeína, combinarla con otros ingredientes (leche, chocolate, syrup) y servirla según las recetas tradicionales (macchiatos, lattes, cappuccinos, cortados) o la creatividad del local.

El público que acude a los coffee shops, es uno de los más diversos. Están aquellos vinculados al mundo de la literatura que prefieren ver personas a su alrededor, en vez de una biblioteca tranquila y silenciosa. No faltan aquellos que eligen el coffee shop para cerrar un negocio. O los que prefieren trabajar desde estos lugares aromatizados de cafeína. Y también están aquellas personas que acuden al coffee shop en busca de un espacio alternativo, relajado, amigable, para hacer vida social y comunitaria.

“Lo que pasa es que hay personas que no toman alcohol, pero quieren divertirse en un lugar distinto al bar, entonces el coffee shop es una buena alternativa para ellos”, me dijo de modo muy acertado, Stacy Webster, músico y barista de Iowa City. Entonces, escuchar a músicos locales; asistir a recitales de poesía, especialmente de escritores emergentes; ver una exhibición de pintura o fotografía; participar en un conversatorio abierto sobre temas que conciernen a los vecinos de una ciudad, últimamente, ya no son actividades ajenas de un coffee shop.

Me pregunto, ¿cuántos propietarios de coffee shops de Iowa se animarían o, más bien, se atreverían a promover comunidad y vida social en su ciudad? Conozco experiencias en otros lugares que demuestran que la actividad lucrativa de un coffee shop es perfectamente compatible con la idea de construir una comunidad amigable e inclusiva. Por ejemplo: el “Café Zeit” de Tacna, Perú, quienes por varios años fueron uno de los faros de cultura y arte de Sudamérica, esto gracias al ingenio y a la tenacidad de su dueño, Claus Ranke. También está el caso del “Brewer’s Cafe” de Richmond, Virginia, cuyo dueño, Ajay Brewer, le ha cambiado el rostro a su barrio, dándole un aire más amigable, divertido y seguro para todos. Y también le ha dado una lección a la industria del café, en el sentido que siempre se puede hacer, “Más que un café”, tal como lo indica su eslogan.

Your neighborhood coffee shop

Translated by Allison Stickley

“I was so pleased to see him that I suggested we go have a cup of coffee.” -Vargas Llosa, “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter”

Coffee shops, or cafés as they’re sometimes called, are places that start working early in the morning. Some are well lit, but there are also those with soft, dim light, welcoming an air of intimacy, an ideal place for talking with someone special or even just reading a book. And, of course, there is always the company of a good cup of coffee.

The baristas are artisans with that black, bittersweet drink. They’re constantly checking the grind and flavor of the coffee, the temperature and foam of the milk, the pressure of the Marzocco machine, etc., looking for the desired result: extract caffeine, combine with other ingredients (milk, chocolate, syrup) and serve according to traditional recipes (macchiatos, lattes, cappuccinos, cortados) or local creativity.

The public that comes to the coffee shops is one of the most diverse. They are connected to a literary world where they prefer to see people around, rather than the calm, silent library. There is no lack of those that chose the coffee shop to close a business. Or those that prefer to work from a place aromatized with caffeine. And even people who come to the coffee shop looking for an alternative space, relaxed and friendly for social and community life.

“There are people that don’t drink alcohol, but they still want to have fun in someplace that isn’t a bar, so a coffee shop is a good alternative for them,” Stacy Webster, a musician and barista from Iowa City, confidently told me. So, listening to local musicians, attending poetry readings, especially from emerging writers; seeing a painting or photography exhibit; participating in an open forum about neighbors’ concerns of the city. Really, there aren’t many activities you can’t find in a coffee shop.

I wonder: How many coffee shop owners in Iowa would want to — or even better — dare to promote community and social life in their city? I have had experiences in other cities that show the lucrative activity of a coffee shop is perfectly compatible with the idea of constructing an inclusive and welcoming community. For example, Café Zeit in Tacna, Perú was one of the art and culture lighthouses of South America for several years thanks to the ingenuity and tenacity of its owner, Claus Ranke. There is also the case of Brewer’s Cafe in Richmond, Virginia, whose owner, Ajay Brewer has changed the face of the neighborhood, creating an environment that is more friendly, fun and safe for everyone. And Brewer’s is also a lesson for the coffee industry — more can always be done because a coffee shop is “more than a café,” just as his slogan indicates.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 305.


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