Quito now has a broad range of places to sample local coffee – some cafeterias that have been serving for over half a decade, some are newer coffee shops making the most of the heightened interest. Read on to find out where the Old Town’s best coffee spots are so you can get your caffeine kick, with history and cultural lessons thrown in to boot.
Coffee in Ecuador
Across the world, coffee is enjoying a “moment,” transformed from morning necessity to artisan delicacy. Its many forms, techniques and aficionados have all but become synonymous with gentrification and hipster culture – all converted industrial spaces with exposed brick and palates for furniture.
But in Ecuador, coffee has always (well, since the 19th century) represented a way of life. The only change is that whereas the Andean country used to export all of its best produce and keep mass-produced, inferior brands for itself, now there’s great demand for the highest quality local beans right here in the coffee shops of Quito.
There’s a new interest in the stories behind the brands: the people, the processes, the principles. For example, something that once held Ecuador production back but is now celebrated as a plus, is its use of small, individual producers and without fertilizers and insecticides.
Then there’s Ecuador’s incredible biodiversity, famous in its own right, and also the reason behind the country’s distinctive flavours and types of coffee. Its quality has much to do with Ecuador’s equatorial position and volcanic soil.
Chile and Guayaquil
With a window acting as a peep-hole into the glorious San Agustin convent, Cafeto feels like a bit of a hidden treasure. The coffee shop is the epitome of Quiteño tradition: gleaming copper tanks and pipes, cosy booths and a balcony, stone floors and frescoed ceilings. It’s all about an authentic experience, employing a 100 percent Ecuadorian produce philosophy within a friendly, laid-back environment. The espresso comes highly recommended, as do the breakfasts – both international and Ecuadorian in style – that come in at little over US$5. Cafeto is a convenient pit stop both for exploring the convent and Plaza Grande, handily located on the sloped Chile street.
Heladeria San Agustin
Guayaquil and Mejia
Perhaps Cafeto’s closest competitor, Heladeria San Agustin can be found right around the corner on Guayaquil street and is named after the convent to which it is attached. Mainly functioning an ice-cream parlour, the 150-year-old café is a trove of nostalgia, offering the sort of pastries and traditional treats that make Ecuadorians’ eyes well up. The coffee, of course, is outstanding, and each cup is enjoyed while admiring the red walls decorated in gold-framed mirrors, religious paintings and genuine newspaper cuttings with stories about the heladeria. For more than a light bite, there’s also ceviche and other local delicacies.
Espejo and Guayaquil
With its stripped back interior and chequered tiles, Café Galletti is a cool spot for coffee. Part of Teatro Bolivar, one of the city’s most emblematic theatre venue that has recently enjoyed a trendy refurbishment after it was all but destroyed by a fire in the late 1990s, Galletti has an old world, romantic feel to it. While the setting alone would be reason to visit, the coffee speaks for itself. Expert coffee makers, the Galletti brand is popular here, and includes beans and blends from various regions across Ecuador. The coffee shop also offers group tasting sessions, trying out different preparation methods, origins of the coffee, mixes and techniques. And these guys really know what they’re talking about.
Dios No Muere
Junin and Flores
This restaurant housed in a 16th century building offers three different ambiences in which to enjoy your coffee. The first: al fresco on the terrace looking onto the street, watching the world go by and admiring the lovely architecture of one of the Old Town’s quaintest streets. Just inside is the ground-floor bar, all high stalls and shiny wooden bar, with a chatty barman to match. Above a first floor dining room, there’s an attic-like space, accessible by ladder, fitted out with old, cosy sofas. This final space is ideal for a late afternoon or evening brew, and is romantic and quirky enough for a date. Elsewhere on the menu, Dios No Muere serves Cajun-inspired food, as well as Ecuadorian staples like empanadas.
Simon Bolivar (Plaza San Francisco)
Casa Gangotena, the former family home of one Quito’s most illustrious clans, has preserved some of the tradition of its previous residents. Within an eclectic and elegant conservatory – one half made up of exuberant orchids and printed sofas, the other all white table cloths – waiting staff serve Café Quiteño, a sort of Ecuadorian take on the British afternoon tea. But inspiration aside, the experience is totally Ecuadorian, with local coffees, empanadas and traditional sweets presented in fine style. As well as Ecuadorian coffee, a further option is tea made from fresh herbs, from mint to lemon grass.
Café Quiteño is complimentary to guests of Casa Gangotena
The arches of Plaza Grande
One of Quito’s most iconic spots, Plaza Grande is packed with things to do and see. There’s the Changing of the Guard, a visit to the Presidential Palace, tours of the Cathedral or gold-encrusted La Compañia, get your shoes shined, and all number of museums around the plazas peripheries. You can even get your hair cut there. Most conveniently, there are a handful of coffee shops situated in cosy archways beneath the cathedral, ideal for resting after serious tourism and watching the world go by. In fact, you could even do away with the sight-seeing and spend a happy morning in one of these cafés, working your way through their menus of local and international cakes and pastries. No one would be any the wiser!
This kooky bar has a few tricks up its sleeve. It doubles up as an art gallery, triples up as a microbrewery and quadruples up as a concert venue, hosting cool live acts and feel-good tribute bands. And of course, there’s the coffee. Another subscriber to the Ecuador-only philosophy, expect offbeat blends that you won’t find elsewhere.
Av José de Sucre
This exemplary coffee shop was founded in 1950 and has long been regarded as a “classic” in the city. Unassuming from outside but high-ceilinged and light filled in an inner patio typical of Quito, Modelo can see up to 1,600 people pass through its doors each weekend. Owner Guillermo Báez, who took over from his father in 1987, continues to serve up quintessential Quiteño fair, including palm leaf-wrapped humitas, hot chocolate, and locally-sourced coffee. There are also heavier traditional dishes to try, like seco de chivo (goat stew) and locro de papa (potato soup). On Sundays, the café ups the nostalgia a further notch with a piano player to accompany your cappuccino and sandwiches.
Morales and Guayaquil
Dulce Placer is a perfect spot the bring the family to take five: the adults enjoyed a hard-earned espresso, the children tucking into ice creams leaving them sticky of face and hand. Situated right on the buzzy La Ronda street, filled with craft shops and bars, Dulce Placer makes an ideal respite from it all with its second-floor balcony and comfortable atmosphere. The café boasts more than 500 flavours of ice-cream – all 100 percent natural and Ecuadorian.
Plaza San Francisco
Tianguez means shopping centre in the pre-Columbian náhuatl language, and this particular one is found right across the plaza from Casa Gangotena. It is something of a market place, selling fair trade artisan crafts – ideal for gifts and souvenirs. But much like traditional markets, Tianguez is also the place the eat, drink and rest. With a menu serving up hearty Ecuadorian cuisine, with all the soups, stews, sticky pork and sweet potato, the centre also has a cafeteria serving up lighter bites with coffee, juices made of local tropical fruits, and pastries. To cap it off, the cafeteria has lovely views of Plaza San Francisco, one of the most iconic hubs in Quito.
Café del Teatro
Plaza de Teatro
With its seats and tables set out al fresco on the plaza, Café del Teatro has a distinctively European vibe. It’s tucked into the corner of Plaza Teatro, next to the pastel-coloured Teatro Variedades – ideally placed to watch the comings-and-goings of the bustling square, from the street performers and vendors, to the punters waiting to enter the grand Teatro Sucre, perhaps to see an international pop star or opera performance (and if you’re going to see a show yourself, even better). As well as top-notch coffee, the café serves wine, beer and cocktails as well as modern, tapas-style bites – ideal if you need to wolf something down in the interval of a performance.
Ecuadorian coffee brands for you to try:
- Velez: Since 2006 this brand has pushed Ecuador as the world’s premium coffee producer, and offers training to baristas across the country.
- Galletti: This brand works with small coffee producers around Ecuador, with varieties from the Amazon, cloud forest, mountains, and one produced only by women.
- Isveglio Cultura del Café: Pick up a bag from this young, visionary company of coffee fanatics from their store in Francisco Salazar.
The lush backdrop and temperate climate of this southern region contribute to making this one of Ecuador’s most important coffee regions, producing Typica, Bourbon, Caturra varieties. Coffee lovers should pay a visit, and see for themselves the land that is said to have life-prolonging effects.