The coffee drunk in Cartagena and Medellin was often bitter and short on aroma and flavor. Many of the Colombians we encountered added a liberal amount of sugar and milk to their cups of coffee. Fortunately for us, there were a number of excellent places to drink excellent coffee, among them El Gato Negro Café in Cartagena and Al Alma, one of a chain of such espresso shops.
Spoiled from life in the San Francisco Bay Area and our stays in Europe, our morning cappuccinos had become a relaxing way to begin our day, often poring over a newspaper or book and striking up conversations with other customers. What would be the coffee situation in Salento?
Excellent, as it turned out. The owners of Plantation House, our chosen hostel, grow their own organic beans and there is always a pot of delicious coffee available. Our coffee addiction partially satisfied, we asked Phil whether there was a real espresso shop in Salento. Yes! We headed there at once. A statue of a man with a ring of keys leaned out the window, beckoning us inward.
The Café Jesús Martín is beautiful, with a warm interior featuring wooden counters and tables, comfortable seating, artwork, and plants, including two enormous flowering Vandas that hang above the railings separating the downstairs from the upper seating area. Not only is the coffee sublime, the pastries and other foods available for purchase are delicious and beautifully prepared.
Initially, we were the only clients, soon joined by a couple of guys from Germany, then two from New England. “Interesting,” I thought, “that there are enough tourists in this small town to sustain an espresso shop!” That thought was soon proven incorrect as local businessmen began coming in, enjoying an espresso at the coffee bar while discussing the affairs of life. Amazing! It looked like a scene in a village in France.
The foam was well prepared and the latte art was not the usual heart or fern, prepared with a flourish of the wrist in the classic Italian manner, but rather with drawn designs of spider webs, the sun, and more. Innovative, our cappuccinos had a distinctive appearance.
There is quite a story behind the shop. The owner, an attorney named Jesús Bedoya, grew up on a coffee farm. Disheartened by the export of Colombia’s best coffee, he has decided to reverse that trend. He is re-educating Colombians to enjoy their own best coffee and educating them about the losing proposition of selling their coffee crops to huge foreign monopolies. How is he doing this? One cup at a time. The Jesús Martín espresso shops in Salento and in the Coracora Valley are part of his business plan.
Roasted coffee beans and ground coffee are available in vacuum-packed bags. Although we had two months more to travel, we bought some so we could bring it home. We were glad we did because it brought back great memories when we were back in San Francisco.