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Cafe Tortoni: A Cup of Argentinian Coffee History

With an astounding 60% of Argentinians having Italian ancestry, it’s no surprise that coffee culture in Buenos Aires is robust and thriving. With small, independent neighbourhood cafes, local chains like The Coffee Store, and even Starbucks, lurking throughout the city, it’s super easy to get your daily dose of required caffeine – something that made this particular coffee addict, very, very happy. 🙂

Tortoni 1

In a city positively awash with resplendent choices, it’s difficult to focus, but the one cafe I was most excited about visiting was Cafe Tortoni, the oldest and most famous coffee house in all of Argentina. Getting a fix in one of the world’s 10 most beautiful cafes, was an experience I wasn’t willing to miss.

Tortoni 4

Founded in 1858 by a French immigrant, Tortoni’s caffeinated brews have passed the renowned lips of politicians, thinkers and celebrities, including Albert Einstein, Hillary Clinton, the King of Spain, Robert Duvall and tango great, Carlos Gardel.

The design of the cafe is as spectacular as it’s list of patrons. Decorated in an art nouveau style, the building features intricate mouldings, a $1.4 million Tiffany glass ceiling, stained glass windows and green marble topped tables. Old, black and white photos line the walls, imbuing Tortoni’s with just the right hint of historical gravitas.

Tortoni 2

Now after all this talk of coffee at Tortoni’s, you’d think I would’ve been right on the cafe con leche, but alas, when the time came, I ended up ordering an Argentinian specialty instead – the Submarino. This cleverly named beverage involves a cup of steamed milk, and a chocolate submarine, which you submerge to create hot chocolate. What could be better than ordering something uniquely Argentinian in a decidedly Argentinian cafe (or so I romantically thought).

Tortoni 6

Agri took a more traditional route and ordered a cafe con leche and 3 churros con chocolate, which the cafe is famous for.

Tortoni 7

Truthfully, the submarino, cafe con leche and churros were average at best. The submarino chocolate was waxy, the coffee tasted burnt and the churros were greasy and seemed a day old. Better coffee and churros can definitely be had elsewhere in Buenos Aires, and for a fraction of the price.

Still, in my mind, sitting in a grand old cafe and soaking in 150 years of history, is a pleasure well worth the price of an average cup of coffee…but, just once. 😉

Tortoni 5

Cafe Tortoni
Located at 825 Avenida de Mayo, Tortoni can be reached by taking the A Line Subte (itself a piece of history) to Plaza de Mayo station, and taking a stroll down the Avenida.

Don’t expect great coffee, or great service and don’t be shy about getting a waiter’s attention.

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Sad when the food disappoints in such a spectacular setting. But still… I can think of worse places to while away an hour. 🙂

    June 6, 2013
    • I could’ve sat there for hours, bad coffee and all!

      June 8, 2013
  2. Although it’s a beautiful place, it’s a tourist trap above all. Sorry you were disappointed.

    June 7, 2013
    • Yeah, it’s unfortunate that they don’t increase the quality of the coffee and food – it seems like such a waste and so unnecessary, when Tortoni could be spectacular in all regards. I still loved it though, even though it is a tourist trap.

      June 8, 2013
  3. Analie Julie #

    …Thank you for this nice article. I visited Tortoni cafe too as a part of the Historic cafes Tour me and my husband took this February. We visited 6 historic cafes of Buenos Aires. We loved the fileteado artwork, the vaulted ceilings, the gloriously beat-up furniture, the waiters in bowties, the checkerboard floors. Everything made for a perfect café environment. Some of the cafés were breathing and living museums.
    We fell in love with Tortoni Cafe and especially with the sculpted trio in the corner. Over the years such talented and famous people sat right there in this same chair comfortably in literary discussion over their coffee. At the end of the tour we visited the biggest book shop in Latin America which has a Cafe inside and you can take a book and read it, taking a sweet coffe, and then return the book, for free !
    This book shop used to be a huge theatre, really amazing.

    March 8, 2016
    • Hi Analie, thanks for your nice comment. There are so many beautiful cafes in Buenos Aires, I wish I’d had more time to explore them all. The library / cafe sounds really amazing too! 🙂

      March 11, 2016

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