Coffee in the barrio? Yes please…
But not just any barrio. I’m talking about El Barrio Jalatlaco, the oldest neighborhood in the city of Oaxaca. Jalatlaco is one of the mostly hidden gems of the city, given it’s almost 12 block walk from the tourist center of this great city. If you decide to leave behind the hustle and bustle of the city center, the quiet picturesque Jalatlaco, with it’s cobblestone streets may be the place for you.I first visited this almost old world neighborhood back in 1999, and I’ve never left. Back then the few places to stay were family owned spartan hotels mostly known for the old style corrugated tin doors on the rooms and shared bathrooms. Today those rooms have been upgraded, many come with private baths, the interior courtyards are veritable gardens of greenery and peace and the prices are some of the best available in Oaxaca.
Another upgrade that is taking place here in the barrio is in the world of coffee.
For years if you wanted coffee in Mexico you were at the mercy of Nestle and their ubiquitous brand Nescafé Clásico or as it is known by many chilango, No es Café!
Thankfully we are seeing a real change across Mexico and Oaxaca, home to some of the best coffee in the country is finally fully on board. One of the areas where this is most evident is in Jalatlaco where the growing coffee culture is anchored by Café El Ágora, owned by Arnel Cruz, Arnel is also the longtime owner of Casa Arnel, a wonderfully quaint bed and breakfast hotel that has been in the area for years. (Full disclosure, I have stayed at Casa Arnel many times and consider Arnel a good friend)
Think of Café El Ágora as the gathering place. Holding court at the corner of Aldama and Hidalgo, Café El Ágora has been open almost three years. In that time it has gradually increased its menu and is now offering baguettes and breakfast alongside the typical coffee house menu of frappes, lattes and cappuccinos. Weekends also give you live music in this beautifully designed coffee shop.If an up and coming crowd, live music, coffee and a snack is what you are seeking, this place is for you.
Next up is Café Xiguela, located a block away in the shadow of the Church of San Matias. An unpretentious facility, this is the anti-hip option in Jalatlaco. It serves up organic coffee and has an extensive tea list. Small and friendly, Xiguela is only open until the afternoon.
The coffee is good, fresh and strong, the way I like it. Xiguela is quiet and they also offer free Wi Fi, not an option at Café El Ágora.
With lots of tables, clean restrooms and plenty of snacks to munch on, it’s a great addition to this part of Oaxaca, and if you need to work and connect, it’s perfect.
Finally, we take a look at Café Blasón, located kitty corner to Xiguela in Jalatlaco. This is a small place and it is more like a coffee bar. In fact with only four tiny tables, their bar is actually filled most nights with people talking to the baristas like they might talk to their local bartender.
Now if you’ve been in Mexico for any length of time, you will recognize the Blasón name as one of the more famous Mexican coffee brands. For years you could only find this brand in local tienditas and supermarkets. The trouble was, what you found then was not what you would want to drink. Think dry, bitter and old.
The product that this company store is offering however was remarkably smooth. I ordered a latte and it was strong, but not overpowering, with just a touch of bite. Just like I wanted it. The barista even added a nice little touch of latte art.
I went back a few days later and ordered a half kilo of their coffee and it made a great, smooth pot of coffee.
So here’s the deal… you just want coffee? Go to Café Blasón. Looking for a quiet place to work while getting some great organic Oaxacan coffee? Head over to Café Xiguela. And if you are on a date or maybe want a late night snack for cena, you can’t go wrong at Café El Ágora.
All three are within a block of each other in the Barrio Jalatlaco, a short safe walk from the tourist center of Oaxaca. All three are also, in their own right, adding a few distinctive touches to the growing reputation of Oaxacan gastronomy and cuisine.