Quote of the moment

"I have to tell it again and again: I have no doctrine. I only point out something. I point out reality, I point out something in reality which has not or too little been seen. I take him who listens to me at his hand and lead him to the window. I push open the window and point outside. I have no doctrine, I carry on a dialogue." Martin Buber

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Starbucks any more

COFFEE. There is nothing like it in the United States. We have shops that specialize in the creation of a brew that surpasses our sensorial fantasies. We Americans schedule our day to include our treasured coffee breaks. There's nothing like slipping away to our favorite coffee shop and asking the coffee barista to bring us a freshly brewed cup to prepare us for the day or to recharge us after a grueling few hours at the office. What would a good meal be without the waitress assuring our coffee cups never dipped below the half-full mark?

Now imagine the culture shock Americans in Chile face when the cup of coffee they ordered at a restaurant, offered at a Chilean's home and served in their offices is not the aromatic brew we crave, but rather a pot of hot water, a tiny spoon, and a jar of NESCAFÉ?!

It is a false assumption that in every South American country, coffee reigns supreme, meaning that every country produces and exports green coffee beans and of course, everyone offers up a premium cup of Joe. However, a search on Coffee Universe and a document prepared by the Embassy of India of Chile's Agricultural Policy indicates it's not so! "A few agricultural items are fully imported, the main ones being bananas, cotton, black tea and COFFEE."

But not to worry my fellow Gringos and Gringas. Chileans have begun to embrace the "Coffee Culture". Thirty Starbucks are now located in Santiago alone.

In fact, Chile has expanded its coffee culture by leaps and bounds, creating its own uniquely Chilean institution to titillate their senses with Café con piernas or coffee with legs. Coffee with legs makes coffee drinking a social event for adults only, causing gringos to wonder if we have been culturally repressed in our enjoyment of coffee?

Despite Chile's straight-laced culture, or perhaps as a reaction to it, café con piernas began to spring up after Pinochet's dictatorship in 1990. Café con piernas serves only coffee, no food or alcohol and close in the evenings. HOW this brew is served in their establishments is what distinguishes it from Starbucks. Gone are the barista's slacks by Dockers, the long sleeves rolled up to prevent coffee stains on cuffs, the green aprons--and I mean this literally! Café con piernas baristas serve their coffee Las Vegas style using pasties in place of aprons. The scantily clad waitresses with more than just their legs showing pose while pouring coffee for its male office-worker clientele. Here, the daily grind has been improved for the local businessman with the addition of a little bump and grind. This definitely puts a new spin on going out for coffee!

To learn more about Café con piernas, view the following videos: (Warning for younger, sensitive viewers--scantily clad baristas are shown in videos)

Journeyman Pictures Documentary presentation in English on YouTube

Spanish Videos:
"Cafe con piernas" en Santiago de Chile

A report in Spanish that Cafés con piernas do not feel an economic crises:


  1. Foreigners always seem obsessed with 'café con piernas'.

  2. Not so much obsessed as surprised and astonished. We too, tend to have our straight-laced tendencies- perhaps a throw-back to our Puritanical beginnings.

    While it may be a given in Los Vegas, coffee and scantly clothed waitresses are not terms usually used to describe a coffee shop.

    What I find even more surprising is Chile's love affair with Nescafe! To serve up instant coffee--sin verguenza--is perhaps the greater cultural difference.

  3. Yes, Chile does not have a coffee culture like the US. Tea has always been preferred over coffee. But you can certainly get decent coffee all over town if you want some; Cory, Segafredo, Cafe Colombia, Buonaroma are some of the chains, and all the independent coffee places around the Parque Forestal and Providencia. Young adults are beginning to choose coffee over tea, but their parents still prefer tea and might serve you Nescafé after dinner in their home.