Caracas goes California

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Next stop: Stanford
Next stop: Stanford

Longtime Caracas residents probably know that Arabicá Café, in Los Palos Grandes, has pretty much the best coffee in town. But did you know that the good folks who own Arábica have been expanding … in California?

I was told by a friend that Coupa Café, a Venezuelan startup, is monopolizing the coffee market in Palo Alto. Turns out that Coupa is the brainchild of the owners of Arábica. Instead of expanding inside the country, they now own 6 locations in and around Stanford University, and one more in tony Beverly Hills. And what do they sell at these places? None other than Venezuelan Arábica coffee, packaged al vacío and shipped via DHL.

Next time you try a cup of coffee in Venezuela and it tastes like dirt mixed in with ashes, think about it: the only place you can find great Venezuelan coffee any more is in Palo Alto, CA.

That’s what happens when the government simply tries to crush the entrepreneurial spirit – people simply pack their things and take their ideas some place else.

1 COMMENT

  1. The one in beverly Hills is bleh…well I don’t drink coffee…but you have other things in San Francisco…about arepas…Now if you are around Los Angeles you have to go to MIL Jugos….

  2. Coupa Cafe has been open in Palo Alto for many years. They also have a really nice location in Los Angeles, in the ritzy Beverly Hills area.

    I spent a lot of time there while I lived in LA. The food was excellent (arepas, cachapas y demás), and the coffee was reputedly amazing (Don’t drink coffee so can’t tell you). The owners are polite and friendly, and the staff is on top of their game – professional yet personable. It was always a de facto meeting place for most events organized by Venezuelans for Venezuelans. Naturally, it was a great place to take somebody on a first date: the staff was always ready to darme la segunda and made us feel like VIPs. An excellent slice of home!

  3. The business (of Venezuelan coffee, chocolate and arepas) is there in CA for anybody to take it. You can find South American stuff everywhere, super trendy and people buying it, of course Venezuelan stuff the harder to find. But people are ready for it for many reasons including the fact that they are so familiarized with mexican food that anything south american is so yummy-trendy for them to try. SoCal also have a very good Venezuelan chocolate business http://chuaochocolatier.com/ they are doing great, been in business since early 2000s I think and it’s always great to go and get a cafe con leche (although they changed the name recently to lattes 🙁 and some fancy chocolate with a Venezuelan name. They have serious competitors in the area but they have stayed strong.

  4. I was at the Coupa Café on Ramona St., a sidestreet off the main approach to the varsity several years ago. Yes, (they said) they get ‘our’ coffee DHL’ed in every two days. They served me an arepa — with a little salad(?) but yes, a nice coffee with a welcome whiff of criollo. Arepas are also available in the Napa Valley (http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g580460-d1536007-i32261706-Pica_Pica_Maize_Kitchen-Napa_Valley_California.html) and if memory serves in SF itself too. As for the Arábica, get there early early early before the service has faltered under the onslaught of clientry.

    • Haa Neddie I was gonna mention it, the pica-pica place, I got hallacas one Christmas thanks to them, and they were very decent. Last time I visited I didn’t like it that much, but hey, better than nothing, and their local have expanded meaning that people have responded positive about it.

  5. Coupa is a fixture in the Bay Area and it is known as the place where startups and Venture Capitalists meet to network and make deals (http://www.forbes.com/sites/tomiogeron/2011/11/16/coupa-cafe-where-startups-meet-work-and-test-products/). The food is phenomenal and a life saver for the many Venezuelans that live in the area and yearn for good ol’ Venezuelan food. It is even listed on Steve Blank’s “Guide to Silicon Valley” – http://steveblank.com/2011/02/22/a-visitors-guide-to-silicon-valley/.

  6. I hope this exposure does not screw up their business model!

    Pica Pica is pretty decent. Orinoco restaurant in Boston is awesome!

  7. In this instance, I doubt that the regime can be blamed. From Argentine wine, to Bolivian quinoa, to Colombian coffe, most of the best produce is always exported. Why? Because foreigners can pay a lot more.

      • No, he is not.
        Firstly: there is no socialism or path to socialism in Venezuela, just vulgar Banana republic Chavismo ruled by the Castro clan.
        Secondly: it is much harder to find decent coffee these days in Venezuela than 14, 20 years ago. They mix good coffee with crap.

        • Anyway, whatever anyone might tell you, you are not here to discuss things, just to annoy. You really have no intention to learn anything. Why don’t you stop annoying so much and enjoy life in Venezuela? You can take your unemployed (are they?) parents with you and stroll with them at night around Caracas.

  8. It would be a lot cheaper to just ship “quintales” of green coffee to California and have them roast it there but coffee exports are monopolized by the state, and limited to a few packaged pre-ground pre-roasted bags to Belarus and Russia. The thing with coffee (and cacao as well) is that once its roasted it becomes stale quickly, so i’m guessing that’s the reason for using DHL.

    Arabica Café in LPG is nice, but the coffee is far from being Venezuela’s best, they roast way too dark to cover up taste impurities and possible bean defects.

    • interesting observation, Octavio. I think Starbucks does the same thing, roast too dark to cover up defects. Ever since I discovered a better method, I avoid these fancy coffee places. Highly recommend buying dark Colombian beans, in vac pack, and keeping the bag in the freezer. Get a small coffee grinder with a metal (not plastic) bucket — Cuisinart’s is moderately priced — and grind the max amount. Keep the grounds in a glass container, in the fridge. When you’re ready for your coffee, pour milk into your cup, microwave it to before the milk’s boiling point, remove from the microwave and place over the cup a filter/drip cone with your coffee grounds. Pour boiling water over grounds. Stir. Yum. It’s a ritual. And it beats all.

      • Nice tips Syd, I though coffee in the freezer would kill the aroma. Talking about ritual, there is a place who used to make a mean cup of coffee called “ritual” they had this great machine called the clover who was invented by engineers to deliver the perfect cup of coffee, and really did, to make the story short, clover was bought by starbucks so now the people at ritual or anybody cannot make coffee with the freaking clover machine. Finally found a starbucks with the clover machine, asked for a cafe au lait, they are like wot is dat, they give me some coffee with milk that tasted horrible, asked my friend who works at starbucks why they cannot make a proper cafe au lait, “oh what you want is a cafe misto” he says. Jeezuzchristo thankyou, you want to think that they know… soooo went there again this time asked for my clover dripped cafe misto and it is really delicious. Cons, not a lot of starbucks with clover machines, and $$$ depending what bean you order.

        • well, plumitas, short of buying coffee at Starbucks every day ($$$), or roasting my own coffee beans (:-O), the next best thing is grinding what you need from (dark) roasted (Colombian) beans that have been vac-packed by one’s favorite brand. Mine is a boutique brand that’s available in some supermarkets. I think that vac-pack bags + freezer is a perfectly fine way to store the beans. Add an open box of bicarbonato de soda to the freezer, which absorbs any funny business.

          Yes, I used to ask for café misto, once in a while – no foam, dos dedos de café, si apenas. But until your comment, I never knew about the clover business. Whatever the case, I believe that once you start doing coffee your own way, by grinding your own beans, Starbucks will never taste the same. Easier, too, on the pocketbook in the long run. If you’re the only one that drinks coffee in your household, Starbucks sells a single-drip cone, or whatever you call them, de porcelana – again, no plastic. The bottom lip is generous enough that it goes over a large cup or mug of hot milk with no problem.

          Pero bueno, coffee is not on my mind at the moment. I’m thinking … what aisle of the supermarket will the Ambiguous Duo walk down next? Will they next squeeze melons to threaten the population? Are the Cuban directors scrambling to produce a new rationalizing script, now that the cat is pretty firmly out of the bag on Maduro’s Colombian nationality? How’s the FANB taking this news?

          • Gonna put some in the freezer to try, thx for the tip. Unfortunately once I am out I do pit stop at starbucks quite frequently (I know the $$$ part) 🙁 but I usually don’t like their coffee, it’s too bitter, that’s what I was talking about the clover, much better. At home, I also like the filter drip, I often use french press too. All righty back to business… about your questions about Maduro.

        • Roasted coffee outgasses aromatics, which is why some packages have those little plastic one way valves, to let out the gasses. Two things accelerate the production of aromatic gasses in roasted coffee, Temperature and Light. This is why almost all coffee bags have anywhere from 3 to 7 layers of material, and one of those is aluminized Mylar, to keep out light. Light, in addition to contributing heat also contributes to oxidizing coffee beans, imparting an “off” flavor to the resulting brew.

          Keeping your roasted coffee beans in the freezer helps retain the flavors longer. Seal bag well to help extend shelf life.

          Grinding should be preferably in grinders with burr type mechanisms, as opposed to whirling blades since the burr mechanism tends to introduce less heat into the process, and heat means you lose aromatics and hence flavor.

          Grind what you need in the moment; the recipient whether metal or plastic or glass is only significant if you grind and keep extra, in that case glass is the choice.

          • Good to have a scientific-like explanation, RN. But unlike the claims in this presentation, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uWkHFl7l1Mg, I don’t find my little Cuisinart’s blade grinder giving me inconsistent grounds, when I grind, say, for approx. 10-15 sec. The fine grounds (but not as fine as expresso powder) are perfect for the conical drip method I use. Where I would agree with the presentation would be the greater loss of aromatics, during higher speed grinding. But is that enough to make me want to run out and buy a Bodum burr grinder? I don’t know. I’ll sip some more coffee and ponder…

            My attempt to reduce plastic exposure during the grinding and so forth, is that plastic seems to harbor the oils more readily, than does stainless steel or glass, etc.

          • Thanks Canuckle!

            Syd:

            The grind size for your preferred method (drip), and the fact you are single cupping it means that using your Cuisinart Blade grinder (which you can grind spices with too, but you already know that!) is gonna be just fine. Relatively low residence time in the grinder means you would likely not be able to really tell the difference unless you have some Baskerville blood in you.

            If you were to try to make decent espresso, then the longer grind time and extraction method would point you in the direction of the Burr Grinder.

            Plastics, though generally inert, tend to get porous when repeatedly hit by flying coffee beans or other solids, thereby able to harbor “stuff” and begin to affect taste.

            It’s no concidence that when you get into the “pro” grinder leagues you start to see grinders that cost more than some espresso machines themselves.

            I still have one of those “FAEMA” grinders at home (PVP $600, bought for $250), even though I rarely use it anymore. Dra. Cuaimensis Saladillensis (aka Mrs. N) put her foot down so no more espresso for me 🙁

          • Sorry for the delay Kep.

            No book, just a lot of research when I was developing packaging for certain National Coffee brands back in the late 90’s.

      • The thing about Starbuck’s dark roasts, aside from covering up defects, is that a considerable amount of their sales are drinks that are high in sugar and milk, and dark roasts with its strong flavor (but generic tasting) allow the bit of coffee drowned in all that sugary milk manage to still be present in the drink.

        I drink mostly black pourover/drip coffees, preferably roasted very light that are naturally sweet, fruity and acidic, the highest priced coffees in the world usually have these characteristics, but i do enjoy an occasional roasty dark espresso with a bit of milk (macchiati)

    • Arabica’s Coffee Green Beans are super selected, they have over 15 Farms they work with. They roast dark and medium to get the full flavor of single estate Venezuelan Beans. I know the owner really well and he only looks for Quality. They have been around for 25 years.

      They have an incredible 4 group ‘Unic’ Espresso Machine the only one in Venezuela that I know of. Plus the new German Mahkoenig K-30 Grind to order Grinder, the best in the world. Plus great Baristas and real Porcelain Cups… no plastic !!!
      Undoubtedly, the best coffee I ever had anywhere. I am a Coffee Geek… wake up, smell the coffee, Octavio!

    • Arabica’s Coffee Green Beans are super selected, they have over 15 Farms they work with. They roast dark and medium to get the full flavor of single estate Venezuelan Beans. I know the owner really well and he only looks for Quality. They have been around for 25 years.

      They have an incredible 4 group ‘Unic’ Espresso Machine the only one in Venezuela that I know of. Plus the new German Mahkoenig K-30 Grind to order Grinder, the best in the world. Plus great Baristas and real Porcelain Cups… no plastic !!!
      Undoubtedly, the best coffee I ever had anywhere. I am a Coffee Geek… wake up, smell the coffee, Octavio!

  9. “Next time you try a cup of coffee in Venezuela and it tastes like dirt mixed in with ashes, think about it: the only place you can find great Venezuelan coffee any more is in Palo Alto, CA.”

    I must protest. In my experience here, even the street coffee sold for around a dime (5 bolos) is generaly better than anything I drank in Canada that I didn’t make myself, including starbucks.

    I also lol’d at the DHL detail.

  10. More than likely this article is in praise of Colombian coffee.
    Who really thinks the process of growing and processing in Venezuela is easier and cheaper than a re-branded import from Colombia ?
    It’s always about the easiest option when considering Venezuelan possibilities. And what easier option is there for a Venezuelan to be sipping Colombian coffee in the security of a non Latino country ?

  11. A really easy way to make excellent coffee at home for cheap is with an Aeropress (http://aerobie.com/products/aeropress.htm) ‘Excellent coffee’ subject to the usual conditions already mentioned re: beans, storage, grinding, etc. I got one of these a couple of years ago to make my morning cafe con leche and my hand-me-down espresso machine went into immediate dormancy.

  12. No hay mejor café ni terraza en toda Caracas como la de Arábica Café. Es un placer sentarse allá a degustar un buen espresso hecho por baristas. De paso, es el único en Caracas que los tiene, y que saben hacer el café en su punto. Además, el café lo compran al productor al precio justo, es orgánico y 100% venezolano… Ellos sí que apuestan por el país.

  13. There are actually 2 very good Venezuelan places in the Bay area. Coupa Cafe and Pica Pica Maiz Kitchen who is also owned by Venezuelans (and they have a storefront even in Napa).

    Very good places I’m sort of a regular…

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