Un tinto, por favor!

I’m sitting in our local bakery Azimos in Bogota’s ‘La Macarena’ neighbourhood after filling my ‘canasta’ to the brim with juicy greens. It is a great place to source organic vegetables on Saturdays and enjoy traditional Colombian dishes like ‘caldo de costilla’ or ‘changua’, as well as classic breakfasts and vegetarian options (the oat pancakes with green apple, yogurt and honey looks yummy!).

I have just ordered a ‘tinto’ and a glass of water (it is sunny and hot here today) when I realise that we’ve never written about how Colombians like to drink their coffee.

Wherever you are in Colombia -- visiting a farm, a family or in an office meeting -- the first thing you will be offered is a ‘tinto’.

Having a  tinto  in Azimos

Having a tinto in Azimos

Tinto’ is the most common preparation of coffee in Colombia, and it simply means a long black coffee. In fancy bars you may be given an ‘americano’, prepared using an espresso machine, but it is in local cafés, at home or on the street that you get the real thing.

Tinto’ is prepared by ‘cooking’ ground coffee in a pan filled with boiling water, usually using low quality coffee such as the well-known ‘Sello Rojo’ – probably the most popular brand among Colombian families. Once made, the coffee is stored in thermoses and sold on streets the length and breadth of the country. When walking through Bogota’s oldest neighbourhood, La Candalaira, it is not unusual to hear vendors crying out loud ‘tinto, tinto, tintico….’. A cup sells for about 500 Colombian pesos (15 euro cents), although pricing depends on location.

We were told that the name ‘tinto’ originates from a working class joke. People who could not afford to drink red wine (‘vino tinto’ in Spanish) would instead drink coffee, whose colour (when held up to the light) looks similar. Makes sense to us!

Tinto' is so much a part of Colombian coffee culture that things like this can happen… I was told a story by a taxi driver that when Starbucks first opened its doors in the Colombian capital there were people queuing to get a taste of this new expensive coffee. As the wait was long, street vendors did a roaring business selling cheap ‘tinto’ along the queue. Imaging the scene makes me smile!

A good address for a ‘tinto’ break is Café Pasaje (see photo) in Plaza del Rosario, a popular spot among emerald dealers and close to Bogota’s Emerald Museum. One morning while sipping a coffee, a bunch of dealers came in, ordered tintos, took out their green stones from paper wrapping and started cleaning and comparing them. I reached for my wallet.

A ' tinto ' in Cafe' Pasaje

A 'tinto' in Cafe' Pasaje

Thanks to my Colombian colleagues, I found out that a well-appreciated variant of tinto is ‘tinto campesino’ (rural tinto) – black coffee flavoured with panela, a tastier version of brown sugar, and a mix of spices including cinnamon and cloves. Even if I prefer coffee without sugar, one can easily become addicted to the delicious taste of ‘tinto campesino’. A good one is prepared in Café Varietale where I love that it’s served in tin cups, but you can also find it in local cafés and chains like Juan Valdez and Oma.

Other preparation methods including filtered and espresso coffees are gaining in popularity in Colombia, but ‘tinto’ remains the firm favourite.