Botafogo was one of the least touristic neighborhoods in the South Zone of Rio de Janeiro until recently, when rent in famous areas such as Ipanema and Copacabana reached record-high prices. This forced both Rio natives and newcomers to find other areas to settle. The more affordable prices, the residential feel, and the proximity to both the noble areas and downtown made Botafogo the best bet for many young couples and creative types—some are even calling the area BotaSoho. Like the nickname or not, let’s just say that Botafogo is seeing a proliferation of new businesses it's never seen before: restaurants, breweries, clothing stores, burger joints, you name it. This is one of the hottest neighborhoods right now in all of Brazil.
And, of course, coffee. Fica, CoLab, and The Slow Bakery opened their doors here last year. Located close to one another, each is increasing Rio’s standards for good coffee and good service—a combination still somewhat rare in the city.
The Slow Bakery
In March, couple Ludmila Espindola and Rafael Pereira, both from a communications background, finally founded The Slow Bakery in a quiet street in Botafogo. Finally because they were already very well-known throughout Rio’s artisan markets and fairs and through their home delivery bread service. Pereira is a self-taught bread maker who got to his “Rio Sourdough” recipe through much experimentation and error. Now, The Slow Bakery uses natural fermentation to create breads that are real masterpieces—some of them take 30 hours to get ready—and the couple and their team keep experimenting and creating in their kitchen.
When they were in the process of opening the bakery to the public, they got in contact with Renato Gutierres and Gabriela Ribeiro from Café Secreto and learned a lot from their coffee service. When Dri Menezes, their head barista, joined the team, it really felt that they had upped their game in coffee service. Current offerings include AeroPress, V60 pour-over, and brews on Clever dripper. You can also order a “Manchadinho,” which is an AeroPress coffee with a little bit of steamed milk. They were serving Wolff Café beans when I visited and they try to always have a visiting coffee from another roastery as well.
One of their current kitchen experiments involves coffee as well—a cold brew that is left brewing for up to 72 hours inside their bread fermentor, which has precisely controlled temperature and humidity. Espindola explains that all that they do, including their coffee program, is aligned with their bakers’ mindset: locally sourced quality ingredients, artisanal methods, tasty, and accessible.
After a night of partying in Rio, all you will want for breakfast will be one of their croque sandwiches sided with a pour-over. Finish that with their cold-brew-infused tiramisu and you are ready for the day.
Not too far from The Slow Bakery, Carol Monteiro, journalist, and Lara Carmo, filmmaker, founded Fica. Both of them have little kids and found themselves reconsidering their professional priorities in that time. Monteiro was a coffee lover and always wanted to open a cafe, and Carmo wanted a flexible job, one that allowed her to dedicate some time to her movie endeavors as well. They started to put together their project in March 2016, found the perfect place—inside a vila off of a very calm street in Botafogo—and opened a few months later, in August.
One thing they really aspired to was making clients feel like they were being welcomed into someone’s home—and for the cafe to be 100 percent baby-friendly as well. As a matter of fact, the day I visited I even asked Monteiro if there was a kids school nearby, as there were many of them playing outside. She said that no, those were all children of their patrons. “It just felt right for us,” Monteiro said, “that we made a space where parents can go to with their kids, but not necessarily being a kids destination. This is a space that welcomes people like us, young parents who happen to appreciate good food and good coffee.” Soon, they will also open their space to art exhibitions from local artists.
The coffee is thoughtfully prepared, by either Monteiro or Carmo, who alternate shifts behind the counter. Monteiro says some people think it funny that they have scales, a grinder, and other tools right at the counter in front of the clients—but that is exactly the purpose so that newcomers can ask more about the type of coffee being served there. Fica’s current beans are lighter roasts from Pereira Villela and Wolff Café. There are always savory and sweet toasts and pastries to try, and a very, very cozy couch to rest on inside.
On the same block as Fica, simply cross the street and enter CoLAB. CoLAB is a hub for everything artisanal, as Rodrigo Abe, the founder, tells me. Abe chose the former mechanical workshop in Botafogo to open his place after acknowledging the outrageous rents and broker fees in Ipanema and Copacabana. Many other people are choosing that same area to open their small businesses too, so people traffic has not been a problem.
At CoLAB, the only of the three cafes listed here that offers espresso-based beverages, they always have two or more featured roasters. In fact, there are always two beans available as espresso—the customer can choose. The day I visited, the beans offered were from 4 Beans and Isso é Café. Iced lattes, given Rio’s intense summers, are also a good bet. In the food spectrum, CoLAB’s menu should be thoroughly explored. They have a full English breakfast option (with beans, sausage, and eggs), house-made cinnamon rolls, and a variety of curry dishes as well. Abe always makes an effort to work with local suppliers and also “lends” the kitchen once a week to guest chefs from Rio.
To drink, aside from the coffee offerings, there is kombucha, craft beer—which they will soon start to produce in-house as well, and refreshing alcoholic options such as the cardamom-infused gin and tonic. “Here is a place to spend the entire day if you want,” Abe tells me pointing to an English couple who had been there since the morning. It is indeed rare to find such a diverse place that is open till late—offering good coffee—in Rio. Botafogo has one more reason to celebrate.
Juliana Ganan is a Brazilian coffee professional and journalist. Read more Juliana Ganan on Sprudge.
Cafe photos courtesy of Cicero Rodrigues. Botafogo landscape photo courtesy of Leonardo Sobral.