There’s more to Rio than bikinis and caipirinhas. The “Cidade Maravilhosa” (“marvelous city”) that is scrambling to host this year’s Summer Olympics wants you to know it is doing its homework on specialty coffee as well. So where can one find a decent cup of coffee in the midst of this city’s endless summer? To find it we must look past some of the wonders Rio offers, such as the 120-year-old Confeitaria Colombo, a bakery, restaurant, and cafe that has become a historical heritage site. Created in the Art Nouveau style, the old hot spot attracts visitors from around the world. They come to breathe the cosmopolitan air of the place, famous for hosting prominent figures from politics and the arts since the Belle Époque. But right now, we are in search of coffee as the main character, not in a supporting role.
Café Secreto was founded by Gabriela Ribeiro, a filmmaker from Santos (a port city in the state of São Paulo) who lived in Paris for a while before settling in Rio. “In Paris, I worked in a couple of restaurants and cafes, and when I returned to Brazil, I decided to create my own cafe in Rio, a place to offer high-quality coffee. To prepare myself, I did some courses at Coffee Lab in São Paulo, and when I came back to, Rio I came across this amazing place available for rent,” says Ribeiro.
The cafe is located on a charming dead-end “street” called Vila do Largo, tucked away near the Flamengo and Laranjeiras neighborhoods, wedged among a commercial area with your classic South American church, a subway station, and a busy bus stop. Business and interest, in general, seem to be growing: “Daily, we receive an eclectic clientele who want to know more about the techniques and science involved in the coffee brewing, so we started an educational project with courses and workshops,” tells Ribeiro.
Teaming up with her on coffee service is barista and independent coffee consultant Renato Gutierres—formerly of Coffee Lab, where he worked for four years and became an instructor in barista courses, tasting, and roasting. “I met Gabriela during a professional tasting course in São Paulo, at Coffee Lab, where she was my student. When I left that job and created my own consulting project, Barista At Work, she asked me to give her support, and since then we have started this partnership,” says Gutierres, who noted upon arrival in Rio that the specialty coffee scene in town compared to a São Paulo or Curitiba in the embryonic stage. “Finding good coffee in Rio is still pretty hard, mainly because, aside from offering a good beverage, you have to provide good service. Here at Secreto we have a range of customers, from a new generation of coffee lovers to old-school drinkers; most of them like a good coffee if it was served with a shot of knowledge as a bonus.”
The regular coffee served by Ribeiro is produced and roasted by Fazenda Ambiental Fortaleza, but she constantly maintains a variety of “visitor” beans. Among them one can find the 2014 Semana Internacional do Café champion for Brazil, Ninho da Águia (Eagle’s Nest), from the region of Caparaó in Minas Gerais, as well as fine beans of Espíritu Santo and southern Minas Gerais roasted by Isabela Raposeiras from Coffee Lab. In addition to classic espresso, at Secreto one can find AeroPress, Hario V60, and Kalita in addition to lattes, cappuccinos, mochaccinos, and, of course, amazing iced drinks with coffee and tea. (After all, we are in Rio, and we cannot run away from its warm embrace.) The menu also includes homemade cakes, naturally fermented bread, cookies, and classical Brazilian cheese bread, complete with jam, butter, and honey from small local suppliers. A last good tip for Rio de Janeiro visitors is that one of the departure points for reaching the famous Christ the Redeemer Statue is located at Largo do Machado, just 100 meters from Café Secreto.
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.
Photos by Serge Pirodeau.