Fog rolls over the Monserrate mountain range and drops onto the sprawl of graffiti-covered apartment buildings, evaporating slowly as it is met with traffic, buses, taxis, and the millions of people below. The sun doesn’t climb over the range until about 7:30 a.m., keeping the city of Bogotá nice and temperate. Originally inhabited by the Muisca people and later on conquered by the Spanish, this city was once known as “El Dorado”.
At an altitude of 2,600 meters above sea level, Bogotá sits on a wetland-covered plateau and the weather stays between 10–25 degrees Celsius almost year-round. It’s perfect weather to bundle up and perfect weather for drinking coffee.
Once upon a time, people would tell you not leave your hotel in this city, not to walk the streets, but over the last decade or so things have changed dramatically. A nation-wide decline in crime and corruption, plus an influx of different global cultures amongst the city’s now eight million residents, has made Bogotá a very cool place to live.
So, of course, that means great coffee. I’m originally from Australia; the cafes that follow are ones that echo my own expectations and desires as an expat living in Bogotá, but I’ll recommend these cafes readily to anyone seeking great coffee and adventure in the city. Let’s go exploring.
If you are staying in a hotel in Bogotá, you are most likely to end up in Chico, near Parque de la 93. To the locals, this area is known for its modern architecture, nightlife, and high-class shopping centers supported by the large amount of offices in the area. It’s home to awesome restaurants, great people watching, and of course, good coffee.
Azahar Coffee Container
The Azahar Coffee container is a renovated, modest-looking repurposed shipping container, with a marvelous coffee selection and choice of brew methods inside. The container choice was a practical one: rents in Chico are sky-high, and so containers allow retailers to take advantage of the neighborhood without paying a fortune for location. There’s also some symbolism here: containers are how Colombian coffee is shipped to the rest of the world.
Azahar’s co-founder, Tyler Youngblood, opened the cafe “so that we could have an effective way to show our coffee to people in the capital.” He tells me of early efforts going door-to-door with manual brew equipment, attempting to make clients out of top Bogotá restaurants like Salvo Patria and cafes like Marie Antoinette. The container started service back in 2013, offering a variety of filter coffee methods including batch brew, French press, Hario V60, syphon, and Chemex, with espresso handled by a Nuova Simonelli Appia espresso machine. Azahar typically has around 3-4 coffees on at all times; these are microlots that are also being exported overseas. They also have a retail stand here that sells amazing specialty chocolates, their coffees, and also brewing equipment.
Of the container, Youngblood says: “Hey, we know that most of the country’s best coffee leaves in these things. But this one’s here to stay. Here you can come and drink the best coffee your country has to offer.”
One of the first suburbs established north of the colonial town, or “La Candelaria”, Chapinero is known as a university hub, with more than 10 university facilities scattered along the mountain side. Cheap rent, clothing pop-ups, food trucks, and a plethora of jukebox bars constantly blasting salsa, reggaeton, and cumbia, attract the young folks to this neighborhood from across Colombia.
Above the 7th Street in Chapinero Alto is Salvo Patria, run by Juan Ortiz and Alejandro Gutierrez. This version of the cafe opened in 2013; prior to that, Ortiz spent eight years working in the Melbourne independent specialty coffee scene, including at Liar Liar in the Hawthorn suburb. He then moved back to Colombia with a plan: to recreate the Melbourne-style cafe in Bogotá, while maintaining a firmly Colombian identity by only using Colombian coffee.
Today, they’re serving Azahar microlots on a classic two-group La Marzocco Linea espresso machine, plus filter coffee via syphon, Hario V60, and Chemex. True to the Melbourne style this place serves great food, morphing into something of a beer & lunch hub in the afternoons, and a wine and cheese spot at night.
Early major influencers on the Bogotá specialty coffee scene, today Amor Perfecto have a major wholesale presence across Bogotá. Their flagship cafe in Chapinero Alto has become iconic over the years, featuring a coffee lab with regular public cuppings and barista courses on the weekend. Amor have fielded multiple Colombian barista champions, and their reputation in the city is held in high esteem. When you step through the big red door, be prepared to be met with great service and a selection of microlots.
Amor’s espresso program runs on a spiffy three-group La Marzocco Strada machine, complimented by filter options including AeroPress, V60, and Chemex. The cafe’s interior is red brick matched with red leather furniture, leading out to a courtyard at the back of the cafe offering natural light. There is also a large window in the front of the cafe that brings in more light in the morning.
This cafe almost feels like a cross between a greenhouse and a cocktail bar. The highlight is surely Amor’s coffee lab / training area that runs parallel to the coffee bar, with a distinctive glass wall separates the public from the cupping lab and roasting area and where they hold barista classes on the weekend. It’s no wonder this is one of Bogotá’s best-loved cafes.
In the heart of Chapinero is Bogotá’s newest roastery, Varietale. Housed in a former convent, the new guys in town have only been open a couple of months, but this place is bustling with nearby university students from open to close each day. The brew bar offers a variety of different methods—AeroPress, Chemex, a three-burner syphon station—and the baristas here know their stuff. The entrance to the cafe is enchanting: sunlight illuminates the bar, the colorful tiles gleaming in whites and blues.
Behind the bar is their sizable roastery, focused on supplying the domestic market in Bogotá and a strong focus on educating the public. Colombian coffee roasters have access to raw product that American, Australian, or European brands can only dream of, but Varietale takes it a step further than most, purchasing their coffee still in its parchment from local farmers, and managing the milling of that coffee themselves before roasting and cupping. They aim to roast and serve the best of the best here and are currently developing long-term relationships with producers across the country. This is definitely a brand to watch.
Quinta Camacho Neighborhood
Quinta Camacho is situated at the northern end of Chapinero, on the border of Chico. The suburb is full of magnificent old Victorian-style houses draped in vines and streets that sit beneath a canopy of trees. A few blocks toward the mountains you will find Zona G, host to some of Bogotá’s finest bars and restaurants.
Bourbon Coffee Roasters
A little gem, Bourbon Coffee Roasters is easily looked over, but it’s one of my favorites in all of Bogotá. I stumbled upon this place by chance when I was exploring the suburb; I walked in and saw their roaster at the entrance, ordered an espresso from the owners, and was blown away by what they served me. Bourbon Coffee Roasters has developed relationships with a handful of farmers from outside of the city in Cundinamarca, also the nearby state of Santander, and they have seemed to nail the roast profile for each coffee.
Opened on the 23rd of October 2013, Bourbon occupies an old Victorian-style house in Quinta Camacho, where many buildings are architecturally preserved by the government. This cafe’s style is warm and it makes you feel at home, especially out in the courtyard, which is an inspiring place to enjoy a coffee or just hang out on a sunny day in Bogotá. The owners, Paola Laguna Becerra and Jose Alberto Rosero, come from business administrative and electrical engineering backgrounds, respectively. While attending university together, these two innovative coffee lovers started down the path of researching specialty coffee, specifically roasting and purchasing.
They took barista classes, roasting courses, and eventually travelled to the La Marzocco factory in Italy to discover what they needed to advance in the industry. Of this learning process, Becerra told me, “Every day we learn more about the world of coffee and realize that no one knows the absolute truth. There are always variables and each must be supported with technical knowledge.” The fruits of that willingness to question absolutes can be tasted in Bourbon’s ever-changing roast profiles, dialed in specifically to suit the array of Colombian microlots that pass through their door and into their roaster.
Bourbon flies under the radar in Bogotá, but that may all change soon. This year in October, they will open their second store in the nearby Zona G. It’s hard not to be excited by this brand, part of the next wave of Bogotá specialty coffee and one of the city’s very best.
Fred Lullfitz is an Australian coffee professional based in Bogotá. This is his first feature for Sprudge.