Buenos Aires has always had a strong cafe culture and now it has the coffee to match thanks to the emergence of a new profession: the coffee roaster.
Carlos Zavalia began experimenting with roasting his own coffee beans at home back in 2013. After trying 30 varieties he settled on a high-altitude bean from Honduras and was impressed with the results. He stepped up to a larger machine and soon found himself running a small side business out of his garage, taking his own home-roasted coffee, Cafe Z, to Buenos Aires’ many produce fairs. Now a roaster-proprietor, he’s left his former profession as an accountant and expanded his coffee operation to run and supply his own take away window in Monserrat (Defensa 313) and two cafes in San Telmo, including the cafe in the Museum of Modern Art.
“It started like a hobby really,” says Carlos, who has a tattoo of coffee brand’s logo on his forearm. “Through trial and error, advice from other roasters, and lots of Google I learned how to get the best results from the beans. Though now I’m doing this professionally, I still see myself as an enthusiast and there’s still a lot I want to learn.”
Although his second venue, Zavalia (Bolivar 1422), is a fully fledged cafe complete with a mean carrot cake cooked by his mum, its function first and foremost was to serve as an operations headquarters to where Carlos could move his roasting machine from his garage on the outskirts of the city. He only opens in the afternoons so that the mornings are reserved for his original passion: roasting the beans.
“The chemical reactions make it very much like cooking,” he says. “In craft roasting like what I do, the process is highly controlled. I reckon I must see every bean I use, and if I see one that’s not right I remove it.”
Carlos says there are many factors that need to be right for a good roast - time, temperature, quantity - but that one of the most important things for a roaster is to know his machine and to keep it well-maintained to ensure an even temperature. But most important of all, of course, is the bean itself.
“The bean is paramount. I always aim to highlight the characteristics of the coffee itself. You can’t do magic with bad beans. I respect the bean as the most valuable thing. Behind every cup of coffee, there’s a whole story and a huge quantity of work that isn’t seen, from cultivation to harvest, to the person who loads the bags onto the truck.”
Learn more about food and drink in Buenos Aires.