As some of you may or may not know, I embarked on a trip to Matagalpa, Nicaragua for 19 days at the beginning of June through a program called Global Glimpse. I initially feared that I would be separated from my beloved coffee shops during my trip, but I quickly recuperated when I found out there was a coffee shop a block away from the hostel I was staying at.
Although one of Nicaragua’s main exports is coffee beans –– the region of Matagalpa contains some of the best quality coffee –– Barista is one of Matagalpa’s first contemporary coffee shops that includes American aspects to it. The owners want citizens to taste the best quality coffee they produce, and assimilate to the widespread popular culture. (On a sidenote, I visited a coffee refinery factory prior to my tour to Barista and I learned that they sold the unsatisfactory coffee beans to the locals while saving all the best quality ones for exports to Europe or the US.)
While on the tour in Barista, some of us got to make our own latte art, but ours couldn’t compare to the workers’. One of the workers who showed us the latte art was especially spectacular, since she received third place in a national barista competition. The tour at Barista was memorable and it easily became one of my favorite places in the city due to their delicious drinks and its vibe that reminded me of home.
Right as I walked in for the first time, I felt a refreshing blast of cool air from the AC, which was a rarity, because most of the buildings I’ve been in Matagalpa had lacked it. The forefront of the store — once you entered through the doors — was filled with large, cozy couches that made my hours spent there reading and planning the next English lessons, relaxing. The decor resembled that of a contemporary coffee shop in the United States, which contrasted with the general vibe of Matagalpa’s colorful and vibrant personality. The baristas and servers were all extremely friendly despite me and my group’s attempts to explain our orders in Spanish (and this was when my three years of taking Spanish class flew out of the window). Our saving grace was that the menu was mostly in English, but explaining the details of our orders was the hard part for us, since the devil is in the details. Also, there was a multitude of televisions propped on the wall near the bar where they played Spanish music videos on one TV and American ones on another. Although I enjoyed watching the catchy Spanish music videos, the popular song, “See You Again” would also play everytime I came in which became repetitive after the third visit.
With a wide variety of hot and cold drinks, the menu was full of delicious options and it was hard to pick something each time I went. All the drinks were affordable and ranged from the equivalence of one to three dollars in US currency. Also, there was a wide variety of inexpensive snacks ranging from fries to sweet or savory crepes. In all honesty, Barista was the saving grace to my french fry cravings because there aren’t a lot of potatoes in a typical Nicaraguan meal. However, in this post I will focus on the hot drinks I tried during the Barista tour, the crepe, and frappuccino-like drink I had during my free time in another occasion.
In the program that organized this trip, we had a set itinerary on what we were going to do and learn about each day. On a particular day, our theme was on global business and we focused on Nicaragua’s exportation of coffee, since it is their number one export product. During the tour, the manager informed us about the history of their business and how they progressed over time and it was enlightening to see how one small franchise could provide such a sweet treat to the city.
In the second half of the tour, we got to try different flavors of coffees and saw how they contrasted one another. While the drinks were being passed along, the barista showed us how to make latte art and she flawlessly constructed a multitude of picturesque coffee creations. She even drew a picture of a fellow Glimpser, Kai on one of the drinks. We first tried a latte with milk, which was the default creamer for the coffee. You can definitely taste the crisp quality in this latte –– where the caffeine taste was more prevalent than the milky taste –– so this drink was only minimally sweet. Since there is a coffee refinery factory on the outskirts of Matagalpa, Barista has easy access to the flavorful coffee beans year round. The latte with Irish cream however, was sweeter and creamier with a slightly thicker consistency. Although the Irish cream was delicious and could satisfy any sweet tooth, it also drowned out a little of the coffee taste, so the sweetness could’ve been overwhelming. Lastly, we got to try the mint latte, which was something new to my spectrum of coffee flavors. The mint taste was strong, while also blending with the same creaminess that resembled that of the Irish cream latte. This latte seemed perfect for a mint fanatic, but it didn’t make a lasting impression on me.
My favorite drink amongst the three was be the latte with Irish cream, because the cream created such a unique taste that sweetened the dark-roasted caffeinated aspect of the drink. I thought that the tour around Barista was insightfully useful, because it gave me a better appreciation for how each drink is crafted. A fact I learned from the tour that I didn’t know before, was that many coffee shops use the lower quality beans for lattes and mochas because the taste can be filtered by lots of milk and sugar.
On another occasion towards the end of my trip, I wanted to try the other side of the Barista menu. I ordered one of the White Oreo frappuccino-like drinks and split a crepe with my friend. Surprisingly, the drink was 70 cordobas which is roughly $2.50. In my opinion, that was a great price for an ice blended drink because they are generally one to two more dollars expensive in the States. Once I got the White Oreo drink, I was enchanted by the adorable presentation –– with the Oreo perched on top being a nice touch –– and I was eager to take a sip. The drink was intoxicatingly sweet and it was hard to not take another sip. I enjoyed the cookie-blended drink, due to the perfect balance of smoothness from the cream filling and the crunchiness of the cookie and blended ice. Of course cookies and cream is the power couple when it comes to satisfying desserts, but it was difficult for me to finish this drink because the sweetness was too overwhelming by then. Nonetheless, I do recommend this to anyone who see looking an occasional sweet treat and has a predilection for sugary drinks.
Moving onto the crepe, I also found joy in the charming presentation of the crepe. This dessert crepe consisted of coconut shavings, chocolate sauce, and condensed milk, which sounded like a glorious harmony of my favorite toppings for frozen yogurt. The price of for the crepe made me even happier because it was only a mere 60 cordobas which is equivalent to $2.20. I had initially thought I liked the taste, but as I ate more of it, I found that it resembled the taste of macaroni. Furthermore, I was not accustomed to the taste of the condensed milk because Nicaraguan dairy products differed from that of America’s. Sadly, I felt that the crepe lacked a sufficient amount of chocolate sauce and it was instead drenched in condensed milk and coconut shavings. Halfway finished with the crepe, my friend and I could no longer continue to eat it. This slight disappointment dampened my mood a little because I had anticipated on trying a crepe here two weeks prior to when I first came in. Nevertheless, my affections for Barista did not drastically decrease.
First off, I’d like to thank Barista for curing my homesickness for American food. This little gem of a coffee shop provided me with french fries and bacon when the gallo pinto (beans and rice) from my meal just wasn’t filling me up. Also, Barista gave me and my English tutoring group a type of headquarters when we had to plan our next English lesson. Coming back to America, I certainly have missed the crisp and refreshingly high quality cups of coffee that were so easily accessible to me. My love and appreciation for coffee and its tiresome process has skyrocketed after this trip. The vast menu has pleasantly filled my stomach with inexpensive drinks and snacks—excluding that crepe, but it’s all good in the hood. Although it’s highly unlikely that I’ll be coming back to Nicaragua anytime soon, I do intend on coming back one day to reunite with the beautiful city of Matagalpa and its coffee shop, Barista.