A Field Guide to Coffee Bars in Barcelona,  Spain,  The Bean

A Shining Light for Generations of Coffee Lovers

Cafés El Magnífico
Carrer de l’Argenteria
Beans on the Menu: More than forty different varieties and blends worldwide to suit the most discerning of palettes plus a wide variety of speciality tea
Crutch Compatibility:
Sins muletas, con cojera (without crutches, with limp)
Caffeine delivery method:
Freshly roasted Tunki filter coffee. Also purchased: 250g Espresso Virtuoso Mezcla (Brazil, Nicaragua, Colombia, India), 250g Ethiopian Harrar Boldgrain
Hit to the wallet:
Music Playing: No jukebox required
Website: www.cafeselmagnifico.com

Señor Salvador Sans is a fast-talking Catalan who is serious about coffee. You could say that it runs through the veins. Well it certainly has been running in the bloodline for generations since his grandfather first started to roast coffee on the streets of the Barrio El Born district back in 1919. But during the three decades of Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1975), coffee was sadly a luxury only enjoyed by the extremely wealthy and the business of roasting and selling coffee was banned under the regime. Yet, the time-honoured skills and knowledge were defiantly – and bravely – passed down from one generation to the next. Now the third and current owner, Salvador, who inherited the business from his father in the early nineties, is faithfully keeping this family tradition alive.

From these humble beginnings that began on the corner of the narrow Carrer d’en Rosic almost a century ago, the family business has grown beyond recognition. Cafés El Magnífico now trades behind the warm glow of its stained glass window which delicately frames the shop front on the bustling L’Agenteria. Located near the magnificent lofty columns of the medieval Basilica Santa Maria del Mar, this welcoming boutique-like coffee shop serves and sells some of the – if not the – best beans in town.

“You want to see some coffee being roasted?” Salvador asks without giving a moment’s pause for a response. “Let me show you where it all first started,” he says before leading the way at a brisk enough pace for my, now crutch-unaided ankle, to just about keep up with. Within a few moments we arrive at the worn wooden doors of the old premises and he leads me down into the basement to introduce me to the Vittoria roasting machine which still bares the scars of a fire just three years-ago. Operated by roastmaster Iván from Cuba, it was just finishing off a morning batch of Arabica coffee beans from Timor. “They’re not ready yet,” said Salvador as he inspected the bag of newly roasted beans, “they need at least another 48 hours for the aroma to fully come through.”

Within a matter of minutes, we were on the street again and back on the pace towards the distribution ‘nerve-centre’ of the business. It is a spacious half-cum warehouse, half-cum art gallery with framed coffee sacks from all over the world hanging on the walls; each printed with the distinct ‘coffee art’ of the grower. Sacks from Papua New Guinea, India, Brazil, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama are just some of the artworks on display. The aroma inside the high-ceiling storehouse is infused with a heavenly mix of coffee and speciality teas that are carefully being hand packed and sealed, ready for delivery to the 200 plus – and growing – book of clients.

Without any diversion, Salvador heads straight to his favourite roasting machine; the 30 kilo Roure, dating back to 1960. As a testament to the unique character of any roaster, this gleaming behemoth with a cast-iron chamber at its heart is at its best when roasting Brazilian beans, he proudly maintains. The controls that can be programmed with multiple ‘profiles’ to exact the roaster’s requirements looked more befitting of a British Nuclear Fuels reactor instrument panel (circa-1989) than a coffee roasting machine; but that’s the science of roasting.

Yet beneath the evident pride in running a successful family coffee business that supplies a ton-and-a-half of freshly roasted coffee to cafes and restaurants in and around Barcelona each week, there is an underlying frustration. The reason, he laments, is that despite the prodigious amount of bars in the city (a staggering 15,000), that serve coffee, very few have the “loyalty, faithfulness, and professionalism” that is essential if coffee-across-the-counter is to achieve its full flavoursome potential. His startling but insightful analogy of an espresso machine being likened to a fruit gambler where the “owner doesn’t care what comes out the other end as long as it makes him money” immediately shatters my over-romanticised vision of the deft and meticulously trained Spanish (or Catalan) Barista in a single retort. “It is nothing short of a crime,” he sighs.

But Salvador and his dedicated team of 24 employees continue to keep this history-steeped family flame alive to ensure that excellent coffee remains a reality in Barcelona for years to come. For him, the essence underpinning the success of Cafés El Magnífico is the refrain of coffee-enthusiasts everywhere. Simply put: ‘Adoro Café’ (I love Coffee). Once the bills are paid, profit comes only after good coffee, he insists. And I believe him.

“I want coffee to shine, as a product and as a drink” he says passionately, as we enjoy a cup of the silky award-winning and organically certified Tunki (Peru) coffee with two customers in the back of the shop. Asked if he expects either of his two children to take over the business when he retires, he pauses for the first time since we met earlier that morning. Thoughtfully, he explains that his ten year-old son currently has only a passion for FC Barcelona. His sixteen-year old daughter however seems to be following assuredly in her father’s footsteps and already works in the shop at the weekend and during holidays.

“We’ll see, who knows what the future will hold,” he responds with a philosophical, paternal beam. If the past – and present – is anything to go by, I don’t think Salvador has much to worry about.

Bean on a Limp rating: 5/5 stars

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