Last August, during winter in the Southern Hemisphere, the Argentine entrepreneur and surfer Tomas Moche took the off-season to renovate the kitchen and enlarge the space of his coffee shop, Borneo Coffee, in Barra de Maldonado, a region of Punta Del Este, Uruguay. Even during construction, he kept the shop semi-open to attend to customers arriving constantly for his coffee. “I do not want to stop serving people, for now, I’m still the only specialty coffee around here and I need to keep the customers connected with good coffee, so I keep the takeaway service operating,” he says.
Five years ago, Moche moved to Punta Del Este, a cosmopolitan seaside town commonly referred to, with some exaggeration, as the Monaco of South America because of its casinos and luxury residences, restaurants, and hotels. But if Punta can be compared to the certain glamour of the French Riviera, across the rippled architecture of the Barra de Maldonado bridge, known as Puente Ondulante, is the much more relaxed town of Barra de Maldonado.
Here, there aren’t any tall buildings around, only holiday houses wedged among great lengths of sand and virgin wild areas, and, of course, beautiful beaches like La Posta del Cangrejo and Playa Bikini, both appropriate for surfing. Across the charming central street are cool restaurants and bars, local shops, antique stores, and a glittery nightlife that sets the small village on fire every summer evening.
Moche got the inspiration to found his business in La Barra while frequenting Californian cafes. Since moving to Uruguay, he visits the American West Coast once or twice a year, and while there relaxes at cafes after surfing. The vision for a cafe came to fruition while taking barista courses in San Diego, when he bought a La Marzocco FB80 and began chasing after specialty roasters in Uruguay and Argentina, his homeland.
Without delay, he found a wide range of high quality beans from MVD Roasters and The Lab, both native to Montevideo. He also discovered Agustin Quiroga’s coffees from Puerto Blest in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Moche also brings coffees back to Punta Del Este from his travels. Recently, he had Australia’s Quest. In addition to espresso, Borneo prepares coffee with the V60, AeroPress, and as cold brew. Hot Dutch chocolate-based drinks are also hits, according to Moche.
Moche has Argentine chef Sabine Caubarrere preparing genuine homemade foods like carrot cake, chocolate cookies, brownies, Argentinian alfajores made with almond and honey, and other southern cuisine staples. “I want to offer a traditional but focused patisserie of wholesome products like whole wheat flour, brown sugar, and vegan and gluten-free options. For the summer, we will also have light and healthy snacks for the beach, not forgetting, of course, the Uruguayan meat in some dishes,” says Caubarrere, who has a degree in gastronomy from Argentina as well as international experience working in restaurants and hotels in France, Spain, and Belgium, as well as in Argentina and Uruguay.
Today, the regular coffee served by Borneo is roasted by The Lab, which besides being a coffee shop and a roasting company in the Uruguayan capital also operates as a dealer for La Marzocco in the country. Veronica Leyton, one of the partners, told me she is very excited to provide her beans to Moche. Her sentiment sums up his cafe’s place in the South American coffee community. “Borneo is a jewel in the country’s recent boom of independent coffee shops, brimming with casual amiability and offering expertly-prepared coffee and food. It’s exactly the alternative that a place like Punta del Este needed.”
Paulo Pedroso is a regular contributor to Brazilian newspapers Folha de São Paulo and Valor Econômico, as well as Revista Espresso, a Brazilian specialty coffee magazine. Read more Paulo Pedroso on Sprudge.