Argentina and especially Buenos Aires, has a well ingrained “café” culture, both in the sense of the drink and the place where you go to have it. Every block has at least one but more likely 6 places that let you know that coffee is available within. And many of them will include cafeteria in their name. Porteños, or residents of Buenos Aires do not get their coffee “to go”. They don’t drink it while walking on the street or while driving the car or riding the subway. They drink coffee in a café, and usually with a friend, co-worker or business associate.
Some of these cafés have become known as “important” cafés due to their longevity or to the nature of their clientele or both. Perhaps none are considered more important than Café Tortoni, but more about that in a moment.
First, you have to know how to order your coffee. If you simply ask for a café you will get a strong black coffee in a small cup, essentially an espresso.
Café cortado will be an espresso with a bit of milk and some foam on top, therefore, it is coffee “cut” with milk.
Café con leche is of course simply coffee with a good splash of milk. The “go to” breakfast is café con leche with 2 medialunas (half moon) or croissant rolls.
Lágrima is the Spanish word for tear as in a teardrop. In a café, asking for lágrima will get you a hot drink that is three quarters milk and one quarter coffee, therefore a teardrop of coffee in milk.
If you prefer hot chocolate then you can order a submarino. This is a cup of hot milk accompanied by a chocolate bar. You submerge the chocolate bar into the milk and stir to get your hot chocolate. A delightful drink. At Café Tortoni, the chocolate bar that comes with the submarino is in the shape of a submarine.
Café Tortoni has been serving coffee (and food, of course) to the people of Buenos Aires since 1858. Naturally, it has been updated and modernized during the years but the wood paneling, marble table tops and polished marble columns are the same. The waiters are all men and are dressed in dark suits and white shirts all day. Yes, it has become something of a tourist attraction but the locals still love it and the tradition it represents.