Drinking coffee, in Latin America, is not just about a quick caffeine fix. It is a rite that forms part of our identity. We teach our children the family recipe, knowing that they’ll teach it to their children. And over time, these have developed into specific local customs. Colombia has its tinto, Costa Rica its café chorreado, Mexico its café de olla, Peru its café pasado, Brazil its cafezinho…
While many of these do not follow Specialty Coffee Association guidelines, let alone use the latest brewing equipment, they bring us just as much pleasure as a specialty pour over from a third wave café – if not more. These coffees are about family and friends gathering together to drink traditional, flavorful coffee, often listening to Grandma’s stories and hearing the latest news.
So let me introduce you to some of Latin America’s traditional brews and why they remain so popular.
Washed coffee is sun-dried on patios in Guática, Colombia. Credit: Paola Murillo
Welcomed With a Tinto
Colombia is a land of different flavors, colors, and experiences. With its snow-tipped mountains, deep jungles, and winding rivers, it has some of the world’s greatest diversity of plants and wildlife. And then you have the people, who are as sweet as their iconic traditional coffee – the tinto.
The tinto is drunk in the home, when you go to visit your grandma, aunties, or a traditional farm with everyone. The fire will be lit and the water just starting to boil when you add four tablespoons of ground coffee. In a separate pot, you should be making agua de panela by adding unrefined sugarcane to boiling water. After three or four minutes, it’s time to remove the coffee from the boil and add the sweet agua de panela.
Betulia Rivera lives in Guática, a small Colombian town. When I visit with her son, Manolo, she greets us with cups full of hot, sweet, black tinto. It’s five in the afternoon and she’s ready to drink her twelfth cup of the day.
“Coffee has given me everything,” she says as she gives us our drink. “I even bought my underwear for my wedding with the money made in the harvest.” She smiles and winks.
Tinto represents more than just a coffee. These cups are full of love, shared over great moments with friends and family. They are full of energy, thanks to the mix of sugarcane and caffeine. And they are also full of hard work, ambition, and the desire to support a family.
On Sundays, this Jeep transports locals in Ospirma, Guática, Colombia. Credit: Paola Murillo
Family Moments Over a Café Chorreado
Go to Costa Rica and you’ll find many traditional drinks: hot chocolate, chicha (fermented grains/fruits), coffee… They all weave together with other traditional elements of Costa Rican life to create the tica culture.
But what does the tica coffee culture look like? Well, it starts on the farm with careful planting, harvesting, and processing. Then it continues with the coffee’s transportation on colorfully painted carretas or oxcarts. And finally, it ends with its consumption as café chorreado.
A traditional oxcart wheel used to transport coffee beans.
Fabian Campos lives in Guácimo, a relaxed area in the east of Costa Rica. He tells me how he learned to make café chorreado from his grandmother, Teresa. Watching her prepare it is one of his earliest coffee memories. It’s brewed with a chorreador, a wooden structure that holds a cotton filter.
And his grandmother taught Fabian three secrets for the best brew: never wash the filter with soap, because that’ll affect the coffee flavor. Always remove the water from the stove before it boils. And remember to fill the filter completely with hot water, refill if needed, and pay attention: the dripping process is slow but you don’t want to miss when it’s finished.
Costa Ricans will tell you that café chorreado gives drip coffee a deeper flavor and aroma. This is why this method is still favored and passed down, generation to generation. It’s a method that takes time, but for Teresa’s family, that is part of its value. Café chorreado unites them, making them part of a community that has evolved with coffee and built their dreams on it.
Making a café chorreado in the garden. Credit: Carlos Montoya
Sunday Mornings Start With Café Pasado
Peruvian culture is ancient, distinctive, and diverse. Amazon villages, coast-hugging colonial cities, desert ruins, the remains of ancient cities on cool mountaintops… this country is rich in heritage. And so too is its coffee. It benefits from the jungle soil and high altitudes, gaining unique flavors. Peru’s also the world’s-largest exporter of organic coffee (according to the FAO).
Mercedes Parreño, who lives in Lima, tells me that she makes traditional café pasado every Sunday morning for her family, along with a breakfast of pork rinds and sweet potato.
A variation on drip coffee, café pasado requires a two-chambered coffee brewer with a filter in the middle. Ground coffee and hot water are added directly to the top chamber and, in the bottom, an “extract” of brewed coffee is collected. This can then, if the drinker wants, be added to a cup of hot milk.
Mercedes tells me that she learned how to make it from her grandmother. “My grandma used to make me a whole jar of café pasado,” she says. “When I arrived home, I could smell the coffee being prepared in the kitchen just for me. That’s love.”
Now, she makes café pasado for her little niece Alba, passing down the tradition. And soon, Alba will learn how to make it herself, ready to pass it on to the next generation.
Machu Picchu, Peru. Credit: Abraham Osorio
These traditional recipes are not just about coffee. They are about daily life, identity, family, and loved ones. When my interviewees – who are also my friends – tell me about their recipes, it’s not the water weight or number of grounds they emphasize. It’s about who they’re making the coffee for and what it means to them.
Tinto, chorreado, pasado: they tie together the communities that brew and drink them. Their value is not just in their recipe but in what they represent.
Whether you’re drinking Costa Rican or Ethiopian beans, a natural processed Bourbon or a washed processed Caturra-Catuai blend, a V60 in your local third wave coffee shop or a traditional brew at home, one thing holds true: coffee is about the experience and the people we share it with.
All interviews conducted in Spanish and translated by the author.
Perfect Daily Grind
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