It’s a weird time to be a coffee lover in Rio. Or any kind of person, really.
Rio de Janeiro (the state) has just declared a “state of public calamity” in its financial administration, with the state governor forced to request federal government financial aid in order to be able to effectively carry on with the Olympic Games. Indeed, Rio (the city) has been plagued with security issues (including police and fire department strikes), record-high living costs and corruption scandals—the scene is set for the games to be potentially quite tumultuous.
And yet—this city, with all of its contradictions, can still be something special. You take a stroll around Copacabana Beach, headed to the Arpoador rock. You watch the sunset. You hike to the top of Pedra Bonita and contemplate the majestic city from far atop, the contrast of favelas and high-end buildings, the abundant green areas in between, the curvy seashore. Rio is still Rio, despite all of its problems.
With just a short time left until the Olympics Opening Ceremonies, we’re proud to present you with a list of the best coffee shops throughout the city. To be fair, Rio has never been renowned for its coffee culture: it might be because it’s just too hot (temperatures can easily reach over 40 degrees Celsius during summer) and Cariocas (Rio natives) are not yet thoroughly familiar with any version of iced coffee. The majority of coffee on offer in this city will be bitter, over-extracted espressos from over-roasted beans. But thanks to some folks—the small business owners behind the places in this guide—things are changing. You can now order flat whites in Ipanema, have a pour-over at Largo do Machado, or beautifully crafted macchiatos in the heart of Rio’s Downtown, the now-acclaimed “Centro.”
Go ahead and delight yourself, wherever you are. This is the Sprudge guide to great coffee in Rio.
Besides being my first story for Sprudge, Curto Café is and will always be one of my favorite go-to places for coffee in Rio de Janeiro. Regardless of where I am staying in the city, I don’t mind taking the subway all the way to Largo da Carioca just to chat with the friendly folks who run it, and of course sip their espresso. The beans arrive weekly from Espírito Santo and are roasted by Mario Zardo (a former coffee producer).
At peak times (between 12 p.m.–2 p.m.) things can get crazy: huge lines will form in front of each La Marzocco (one for espressos only, the other for cappuccinos—their only two coffee options). Co-founder Gabriel Magalhães tells me that once a month, they’ve started promoting all-day events with the goal to familiarize customers with specialty coffee. The last one was focused on coffee bean quality and getting to know the coffee offered in the market, and they had 500 people participate. If that wasn’t enough to convince you to pay them a visit, how about this: Curto takes a no-price approach to their espresso drinks. They display their operational and material costs on a blackboard, and leave the pricing up to you—you pay what you think it was worth. I hope they won’t mind me saying I think it’s worth a lot.
In a charming alleyway in Largo do Machado sits the tiny Café Secreto, founded in September 2015. Secreto is conveniently close to Largo do Machado subway station, and less than a minute away from its beautiful church, Nossa Senhora da Glória. Gabriela Ribeiro, the founder, carefully prepares espresso drinks and other brew methods (Hario V60, Kalita, and AeroPress), and sources the tasty food options such as sourdough bread, pães de queijo, cookies, and cakes.
Chances are you will also find, behind the counter, the coffee consultant Renato Gutierres, who used to work with Coffee Lab and now adopted Rio as his home and base for his coffee training courses. Ribeiro and Gutierres are often making up new— and delicious—cold drinks made with coffee, in order to beat Rio’s heat.
The beans used at Secreto are from Isso é Café, but they sporadically have other roasters options in the filtered methods, such as 4 Beans Coffee Company and Coffee Lab. Don’t forget to try Secreto’s pistachio, chocolate, and salt cookie—a hit among regulars.
Copacabana now has one more reason to celebrate, besides its beautiful beach: Sofá Café, from the homonymous São Paulo cafe/roastery, is now in Rio too. It is located a block away from the Cardeal Arcoverde subway station, or, if you are coming through the beach, just make a turn on Rodolfo Dantas street—it will be on the next corner. Also, if you are feeling fancy, Sofá is located in the block right behind the legendary Copacabana Palace Hotel.
The beans used at Sofá come from the São Paulo roastery twice a month. The coffee options available, besides espresso, are Hario V60, syphon, French press, and Chemex. They serve many breakfast-like food options and sandwiches that make for a quick and filling lunch.
Owners Anna Moreira, Carmen Ururahy, and Tania Campos are betting on cold brew, which sounds delicious in Rio’s hot summers. They created an extensive menu of cold drinks made either with cold brew or espresso, and whenever they can they take the chance to introduce Cariocas to these alternatives to hot coffee.
Kraft Café is located just a block away from Posto 10, Ipanema Beach. Duncan Hay and his wife, Priscila Hay, run Kraft with a focus on brunch-like food options, healthy juices and snacks, and mindfully sourced coffee. The beans are roasted by Duncan Hay, who learned the craft from a friend in his native Australia. Unlike his friend, who has to wait for weeks for his coffee to arrive from Brazil—subject to import taxes and customs delays—Hay is just hours away from the source. He often gets coffee delivered straight from farms and co-ops in Minas Gerais to his roastery located in Cosme Velho, a Rio neighborhood right behind the famous Christ Statue. Duncan Hay is proud of serving flat whites with carefully sourced fresh milk as well (the source he won’t reveal).
Kraft serves food and drinks all day long to neighborhood regulars, folks from the large expat community in Rio, and many beach-goers who happen to walk by on their way to or back from Posto 10. When in Ipanema, you now know where to get good coffee and delicious, healthy food.
Bastarda is a cafe, but also a gathering point for Rio’s cycling community. Located in the Horto region, it’s an accessible point for those who need to fill up before a ride, or those who just finished their daily rides in nearby Jardim Botânico Park. Its owner, Marcos Leta, is a diligent rider himself. Being an entrepreneur and founder of a popular Brazilian all-natural juice brand, he felt the lack of a place to get a good coffee in Rio, but where one could also feel comfortable enough to share personal stories and experiences—in his own words. Bastarda is a fraternizing hub close enough to riders they can always come whenever they feel they want to be in their own community.
The syphon coffee and the matcha latte, made with Leta’s Do Bem juice brand matcha tea, are a must try. They will be served to you in antique, unmatched cups sourced from Copacabana’s antique shops. If you are in the mood, there is also a good selection of craft beer available. To eat, Bastarda serves tasty waffles, tapioca, pasta salads, quick and healthy bites for riders, and an exceptional pão de queijo.
Juliana Ganan is a Brazilian coffee professional and journalist. Read more Juliana Ganan on Sprudge.
Photos courtesy of Cicero Rodrigues, and Serge Pirodeau and Liana Rangel.