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15 October 2018

Six Speciality Coffee Spots To Try in Lima, Peru

When I started planning my two-week Peru trip earlier this year, I soon realised that it was unlikely I would manage to squeeze a visit to a coffee farm into my packed itinerary, as I did in Costa Rica. But I did my best to visit as many coffee shops as I could, including in Cusco, Arequipa and especially Lima. I spent two full days at the start of my trip and an afternoon at the end in Lima; I could have cut a day and reallocated it to another city but I wanted to have time to visit a few of the coffee shops I'd researched.



As I've mentioned before, Lima isn't the easiest city for a pedestrian to explore, and all of the places I visited are in the Miraflores or Barranco neighbourhoods. Most places served exclusively Peruvian coffee, which meant I got to try a lot of different varieties, with coffees from Cajamarca in the northern highlands and from the Selva Central featured most often. I was also pleased by the diversity of filter coffee brew methods on offer at the cafes to which I went. Never a fan of milk in my coffee at best of times, I found that the milk was often UHT, and cortados rather milkier than I was accustomed to. I had some very good filter coffees during my time in Lima, though, and met some lovely, passionate baristas, so if you're a coffee lover, don't cull too many Lima days from your schedule!

Miraflores

Arabica Espresso & Slow Bar
Arabica was the closest coffee shop to my Lima hotel but because I was there at the weekend, where it opens late (10 am on Saturdays and 2 pm on Sundays), I only managed to visit right at the end of my trip. Walking past, you might mistake it for a miniature fire station, but instead it's a cosy coffee shop serving Tostaduría Bisetti coffee.




They have pourovers on the menu but I was pushed for time so I ordered a double-shot cortado from the counter, where a particularly jazzy La Marzocco sits proudly. I went through to the back, where there's a small courtyard garden with an unexpectedly grand marble table. There's another indoor space with more seating. My coffee was very well brewed (the double-shot order was something I wish I'd mastered earlier in the trip) and it was a great way to round off my time in Lima — and to prepare for a 12.5-hour flight back to London.


Arabica is located at Calle Gral Recavarren 269, Miraflores. FacebookInstagram.


Cate Tasting Room
Cate Tasting Room was also a short walk from my hotel and I headed straight there after breakfast on my first morning in Lima. Other than the 'living wall', the cafe didn't look like much from the outside, but inside, I found a welcoming coffee shop with plenty of seating and so many brew methods even I hadn't heard of all of them.



I took a seat at the coffee bar and ordered a Rayos del Sol washed coffee from the Cajamarca region, roasted in-house under the Coffee Hunters Peru label. Brewed through the V60, it had subtle floral notes and was very drinkable. I liked it so much, I bought a bag of the beans, which I ground and brewed for the rest of my trip. I also got talking to the friendly baristas, who were brewing using a beautiful ceramic pourover device called the vandola, which comes from Costa Rica. I hadn't seen one before or even heard of it, but the baristas were kind enough to give me a small sample. The coffee was sweeter than its V60-brewed equivalent but in a good way.


Cate Tasting Room is located at Calle Independencia 269, Miraflores. Website. Instagram.


Neira Café Lab
A few blocks west of Cate Tasting Room, Neira Café Lab was my next stop on that first Saturday morning. On a lazy weekend morning, there was a relaxed ambience in the small coffee shop, which manages to pack a roaster in the back. Families, travellers and others were among the customers who had come in search of excellent coffee.



They had two single-origin coffees available as a V60 pourover. After smelling the beans of both, I opted for the washed Villarica coffee from the Selva Central. I also ordered a rich, sweet canela cake to eat while I waited. Design is clearly as important as the coffee quality at Neira and I loved both the colourful ceramics and the cute, fun coasters on the tables. The coffee was very well brewed — one of the nicest I had all trip — and the staff were just as nice and welcoming.



Neira Café Lab is located at Calle Enrique Palacios 1074, Miraflores. Facebook. Instagram.


Puku Puku

A slim coffee bar not far from the Larcomar outdoor shopping mall on the Malecón cliffs, Puku Puku is a great spot for an espresso-based coffee. There are only a few seats at the counter and a little more perching room, but Puku Puku, which means 'bird' in Quechua, is a worthy addition to any Miraflores coffee shop list.



They roast and serve their own coffee and the profile of the current batch is detailed on the subway-tiled back wall. I ordered a cortado made with an espresso from the Puno region of Peru, which was smooth and well-balanced. On a drizzly Sunday morning, the small shop had a constant stream of customers, including joggers and cyclists seeking caffeination after a workout along the Malecón.


Puku Puku is located at Narciso de la Colina 297, Miraflores. WebsiteInstagram.


Barranco

Colonia & Co
In the heart of the Barranco district, Colonia & Co — whose name is echoed in its bee-themed branding — is a spacious and attractively decorated coffee shop and all-day eatery. Set across several separate rooms, with a variety of seating options, it even has its own ice cream shop at the entrance. I took a seat at the counter so that I could admire the pretty ceramic cups and the prettier still, pastel-hued décor.


The Aussie-influenced brunch menu looked great but I'd already eaten, so I decided to try two separate coffees from the extensive and creative coffee menu. I loved the house-roasted coffee from northern Peru,which was brewed through the Kalita Wave and had distinctive fruity notes. And yes, of course I got the usual case of cup envy. Out of curiosity more than anything else, I also tried an orange tonic: an espresso tonic with orange. The flavours worked well together, sweet combining with sharp and bitter, and it made for a refreshing drink.



Colonia & Co is located at Avenida San Martin 131, Barranco. WebsiteInstagram.


Tostaduría Bisetti
Originally established 60 years ago, Tostaduría Bisetti is a real Lima coffee institution. Now located in the bustling Barranco district, their spacious flagship cafe is close to the Puente de los Suspiros (Bridge of Sighs). I visited on the way to dinner at Central, just down the road, on a Saturday evening. It was busy inside, but with several separate sitting areas with a variety of shabby chic chairs, sofas and other seating options. At first, I sat at the table with a vintage espresso machine on it before moving to a more traditional table.



I ordered a cortado, which was a little milky but otherwise very nicely made. Had I had more time I would have liked to try one of the filter coffees. I was at least able to buy some coffee beans — a limited edition bag of Alturas de Mazamari gesha from the Satipo region of Peru. I didn't trust these beans to my in-transit brewing techniques, but back in Blighty, the coffee tasted great brewed through the Kalita Wave, with delightful lemon verbena and sweet lime notes.


Tostaduria Bisetti is located at Pedro de Osma 116, Barranco. Website. Twitter. Instagram.

10 October 2018

In Peru's 'White City', Monastic Secrets Written in Volcanic Stone

From Puno, my next stop is Arequipa, Peru's second most populous city, which is nicknamed the 'white city' on account of many of the buildings in the historic city centre being constructed from sillar (ashlar) — white volcanic stone. And speaking of volcanoes, Arequipa has not one but three in close proximity — the appropriately named El Misti, as well as the extinct Pichu Pichu and Chachani.


I am travelling by bus from Puno and I spy these striking peaks long before we pull in to Arequipa. I take the 8:30 am Cruz del Sur departure from Puno. My ticket costs $23 — for an extra $6, I could have had a VIP seat but these are downstairs and I want to enjoy the views. My seat is at the front upstairs — extremely comfortable and with a lot of leg room. There are individual entertainment screens, but thankfully, these are also individually controlled. We don't stop along the way but the conductor serves a light lunch just before noon. The scenery is quite impressive, from the mountains, to the golden-hued terrains mountains and large, calm lakes, to fields and fields of llamas and vicuñas, and even some flamingoes.




We arrive in Arequipa at 14:30 and I take a taxi to the Plaza de Armas, which costs about 20 soles and takes 30 minutes in the afternoon traffic. I am staying at Hotel Casona Solar, which is easily the nicest hotel I've stayed in all trip; it's also the cheapest. This casona (colonial mansion) dates back to the early 18th century and used to belong to the mayor. The hotel offers a beautiful and calm respite in the midst of the bustling city (the Plaza de Armas is five minutes' walk). My room is large and with the vaulted ceiling common to many buildings in the city, which has experienced many earthquakes over the centuries. The room is quiet and well-appointed (it even has a kettle) and the bed is the most comfortable I've experienced in Peru. Meanwhile, Joshua, who is usually at reception, cannot be more helpful, offering excellent restaurant recommendations, arranging a breakfast box for my final day, and generally making my stay even more pleasant.




Keen to explore, I head to the verdant Plaza de Armas, which is busy with both tourists and locals meeting and socialising, night and day. On the north side is the grand Basilica Cathedral, while the other sides are lined with sleek arcades, all in the sillar stone. Arequipa is noticeably warmer than Puno too — it's around 22C and sunny throughout my visit — which makes for a pleasant amble. I indulge in a spot of souvenir shopping at the Galería de Artesanías 'El Tumi de Oro' craft market, and strike out at the first two speciality coffee shops on my list.



A major tourist attraction is the 20,000-square-metre Monasterio Santa Catalina, which was originally built in the late 16th century, although has been enlarged and rebuilt various times, including as a result of earthquake damage. On two evenings a week (currently Tuesday and Wednesday), the monastery stays open until 7:30 pm, so you can continue to explore the buildings by candlelight after sunset. Entrance to the sprawling complex is 40 soles and although I don't plan to hire a guide, I soon realise that the small free pamphlet is insufficient for my informational and navigational needs. The guide service is only 20 soles (plus an optional tip), in any case, and I learned a great deal from my helpful chaperone.



We spend an hour walking through the complex, which is organised into 'streets' named for Spanish cities. We see the red-orange Novices' Cloister, and the blue Orange Cloister (which has an orange tree), and visit various rooms — or, rather, residences, for this was originally a place for the daughters of the super-rich. Many of them have spacious living areas and their own kitchens and gardens. They are also early adopters in filtered water — many of the rooms have cone-shaped filters made from volcanic rock through which the water gradually drips. As the sun begins to set and the candles and fires are lit, I make a second circuit, pleased that I make it back to the entrance without getting lost.



For dinner, I go to Zingaro, a Lonely Planet recommendation. The food is good: I have prawns — an Arequipa speciality — encrusted in crispy quinoa, and a lovely filet of salmon with sweet potato. But almost all of the other customers are foreign tour groups, at various stages in their Peruvian trips. There is much drama over whether they should order cuy (guinea pig). Most don't.


The following day, I continue in my speciality coffee quest, and find success at Huayruro Peruvian Coffee Shop, a couple of blocks east of the Monasterio. In a cosy, sillar-stone building, Huayruro serves a vast array of coffee drinks using beans from the Cusco region. In the 'iced coffee' menu, for example, they highlight coffee drinks from around the world, including the Peruvian 'café & cacao', the Portuguese mazagran (lemon juice and coffee) and the Vietnamese caphe sua da (coffee with condensed milk). I miss the filter coffee brew method illustrations on the menu at first, but spot an Aeropress on the counter and change my order just in time. The coffee is well made and tastes good. They have pourover and French press options too, as well as brunch.



On my way to the Yanahuara neighbourhood, I stop at Mundo Alpaca, a small petting zoo, where you can feed llamas and alpacas, and learn about the wool production process. It's free to visit but there is an opportunity to purchase alpaca-wool items in the shop. I end up buying some beautifully soft gloves, which are on sale. I also learn never to even look at vicuña wool items. The vicuña is a llama relative that produces tiny quantities of extremely fine wool. They can only be shorn every three years, and as such, the wool produced is very expensive.


Just across the River Chili, Yanahuara is a quiet neighbourhood, whose buildings are predominantly made of white sillar stone. The Plaza de Yanahuara is a good place for views of El Misti, although when I visit, the volcano is living up to its name and is shrouded in haze. I continue to a picantería — restaurant known for its spicy dishes — which Joshua at my hotel has recommended. Indeed, I am the only English-speaking person at the bustling La Nueva Palomino. Many of the menu items don't appear even in Google's Spanish dictionary, but I manage to order a couple of items and a chicha (fermented corn drink). If you're with at least one other person, the 'super-picante' includes samples of various dishes, with enough food for 2–3 very hungry people. I try to order half-portions of the pumpkin chilli (ají de calabaza) and the beef stew, but these come with rice and a papa rellena (a sort of deep-fried potato croquette stuffed with cheese). It's all delicious but I barely manage to eat half, and because I've somehow managed to order the lunchtime deal, I only end up paying 20 soles (about £4.60).




To walk off my lunch, I head to Palacios Coffee, a small coffee shop and roastery back across the river. They've been open since 2013 and have an impressive range of brew methods available, as well as two single-origin coffees roasted in house. I go for the El Ciprés, which has delightful fig and strawberry notes when brewed through the Clever dripper. I have no room for any more beans in my suitcase, but Palacios also sell coffee-based scrubs, lip balms and soaps — I can't resist the verbena-scented soap, which is turquoise and called 'macchiato'.





Afterwards, I pay a visit to the Museo Santuarios Andinos, which is home to the mummified remains of a young Inca girl, Juanita, who was offered as a sacrifice to the gods in the late 15th century and discovered in the 1990s. Like many Peruvian museums, it isn't terribly engaging — we watch a dated documentary for 20 minutes and then proceed through a couple of rooms with exhibits before viewing Juanita. The story of Juanita is very tragic, however, although the video tries to persuade us that she would have viewed her death as an honour.

I am starting to succumb to the cold that will put a damper on my return to the UK the following day, but I have one more Peruvian dish on my to-do list: chupe de camarones, a thick, spicy prawn chowder with cheese, egg, beans and potato. Although it's really a lunchtime dish, Joshua suggests I try Dimas, located just opposite the monastery. The food is delicious and the service very efficient. I take a final wander through the Plaza de Armas and then return to my hotel to pack.



In the morning, it's another early start for my flight back to Lima. I have very much enjoyed my time in Arequipa and wish I had an extra day or two in the city, although with two extra days, I would probably have chosen to visit Colca Canyon instead, whose absence is my biggest itinerary regret.

8 October 2018

Great Lake: Exploring Lake Titicaca and Puno

To journey from Cusco to the city of Puno, the Peruvian gateway to Lake Titicaca, there are several options, including flights and bus journeys of various lengths and comfort levels. I like the idea of Inka Express's ten-hour trip that includes stops at four places of interest along the way ($53 including drinks and lunch, plus 50 soles for entrance fees), but I am less keen on its 6:50 am departure time, especially as I will have finished the four-day Inca Trail trek. Internal flights in Peru invariably involve a lot of faff and a good chance of delay, however, and Puno has no airport, which means flying to Juliaca, an hour's drive away.

As such, I find myself at the Inka Express terminal on the outskirts of Cusco's historic centre at 6:30 am on a sunny Monday morning. I am less tired than expected after the Inca Trail and I have my Espro flask full of coffee. The seats are very comfortable and I soon find myself dozing off. Our first stop is San Pedro Apóstol chapel in the village of Andahuaylillas. Known as the 'Sistine Chapel of the Andes, it looks fine from the outside but inside, it's an incredibly beautiful work of eye-poppingly intricate baroque art, from the colourful murals on the ceiling to the huge gold altar. No photographs are allowed inside, but they give us a CD containing some images. Next up is a brief visit to the Incan Temple of Viracocha, Raqch'i — an interesting site but perhaps a little underwhelming the day after Machu Picchu. 



We eat lunch (included in the ticket) at a buffet restaurant and then proceed to the next stop, the La Raya pass — at 4,335 metres. The landscape here with snow-capped mountains and fields of alpacas and llamas is quite something. Finally, we call at the small Inca museum at Pukara. Our guide mentions a coffee shop selling 'the world's best coffee' (coati processed), as determined by the 2017 Specialty Coffee Association expo. Inside, however, there is just an automatic coffee machine and lots of packs of coffee — mostly pre-ground, although some whole bean — with no roasting dates, so I don't partake.


Entering the Puno province and, in particular, driving through the city of Juliaca, it is clear that the region is much poorer than Cusco. Houses remain unfinished and unpainted — there's no property tax until the building is complete — although with the upcoming regional elections, we see many houses painted with slogans for dozens of parties and candidates. Many roads are unpaved too and garbage bags tend to mount up.

We catch our first glimpse of the vast, blue Lake Titicaca and arrive at the Puno bus terminal just before sunset, at about 5:15 pm. I haven’t booked a taxi and have no small change so I decide to walk the 15 minutes to my hotel. This is a bad move as it’s a steep uphill walk, and many of the streets are muddy and the pavements uneven or incomplete.

My hotel, the Conde de Lemos, is right on the Plaza de Armas, opposite the cathedral. The city’s touristic centre is very small and after checking in, I go out in search of dinner and a hat; I’ve lost my cap somewhere between Ollantaytambo and Puno. Most restaurants are located on and around Jirón Lima and for ease, I go to La Casona, a Lonely Planet recommendation, and because it’s been a long day, I order my new favourite Peruvian dish, ajì de gallina and a lemonade with mint and ginger. It's a touristy spot, but the food is very good and the waiter very friendly and welcoming. I fail in my second mission, unable to find a hat I can tolerate wearing for even one day.


In the morning, it’s another early start. My Edgar Adventures tour guide meets me in my hotel reception at 7:10 am, and we hop in a minibus down to the port. I have booked a one-day 'Titicaca Uncovered’ tour, which costs $69 — over twice the price of most tours, although they take a more ‘off the beaten track’ route. Ideally, I would like to spend two days exploring the world's highest navigable lake but time is not my friend.



Thirty of us climb into our speedboat and we head off to our first stop, Isla Taquile, an island with no cars or electricity but a rich cultural history. We arrive on the north side of the island, which our guide assures us is less touristy (most groups also arrive at Taquile in the afternoon, so it is indeed quite quiet). We go to a house to watch some local women weaving, while the men knit. The men wear woven hats of different colours according to their marital status (pinkish red for married, red and white for single) and to win a woman’s hand in marriage they must make a hat that can hold water with no leaks. We watch a few traditional dances and I buy one of the beautifully soft alpaca wool headbands. 





We walk down the hill to the beach, taking in the rather Mediterranean-like scenery of Taquile. I have worn my swimsuit in case there is time for a swim, but there isn’t. In any case, the water is a little cool despite the heat of the bright sun. I have a quick paddle and then we board our boat to journey to a beach on the Capachica Peninsula where we have lunch cooked in an underground pachamanca (hot stone) oven, not dissimilar to the hangi meal I enjoyed in Rotorua, New Zealand. The food — chicken, trout, sweet potato and banana — tastes good and we have beautiful lake views. 





Our final stop is one of the Islas Uros — tiny islands constructed entirely of buoyant totora reeds, inhabited by Aymara- or Quecha-speaking people. There are just four families on the island we visit and there is, of course, no electricity or agriculture. The people fish and hunt birds, and the children take a reed boat to the nearest school. I don’t buy any of the handicrafts but I do pay 10 soles for a ride on one of the reed boats — “a little cheaper than in Venice,” our cheerful guide Cleber quips. Then it’s back to Puno, where a minibus returns us to the city centre.



Noticing a sign for ‘mirador Kuntur Wasi: 700m' near my hotel, I decide to go. It’s a very steep climb up to the 'condor lookout' but there are great views of the city and the lake — not to mention a life-size condor model — at the top. I stop for a while to catch my breath, regretting that I have run out of water. On the way down, I stop in at the Museum of Coca and Customs, which turns out to be free for tourists on Tuesdays (it’s usually 10 soles). First, I watch a 20-minute video about the various local dances and costumes (it isn’t the most engaging production), and then wander through the small but informative three rooms about the history of coca leaf consumption, which is thought to date back to 20,000 BC (on account of sculptures of people with a bulge in one cheek). 




Uninspired by Lonely Planet’s dinner recommendations, I revert to my own research and happen upon a lovely French-Peruvian fusion restaurant just around the corner from my hotel. At La Table del Inca, they do a three-course meal plus a drink for 80 soles. The drinks don’t include pisco sours so I order one of those too. It is small but tasty and potent. The food is delicious too. I have a fried prawn wonton-like dish with an avocado sauce to start, followed by the tastiest take on lomo saltado I’ve tried so far: juicy, perfectly medium and served with dauphinoise potatoes. Peruvian servings are usually so big, I’ve only rarely had room for pudding, but the Cusco chocolate fondant with custard is rich and delicious, and beautifully presented. The wait staff are friendly too.




And that is all I have time for in Puno. Note that the altitude in the city is 3,800 metres (higher if you go up to condor lookout, of course) and so it's worth taking precautions against altitude sickness if you have travelled from a much lower altitude. I drank a lot of water and had some coca tea, and tried to take things easy where possible, and I wasn't affected, but a few people on my Edgar Adventures trip reported some symptoms.