Mesón del Café
Location: Carrer de Libretería
Crutch compatibility: 4/5 stars (the liberal sprinkling of sawdust on the ceramic floor provides ample traction for the crutch-enabled coffee enthusiast)
Beans on the Menu: To quote: “‘Top Secret’ South American Mezcla”
Caffeine delivery method: Cortado, (glass of Catalan Mescaro, no ice), cafe con leche
Hit to the wallet: €9 (and worth every eurozone bean)
Music playing: Radio Catalunya
Steadfastly resisting the contagion of brash souvenir shops that appear to be advancing from both sides, the Mesón del Café (Coffee Inn) evidently has its roots planted firmly in Catalan soil; and isn’t budging. Walk a few yards from the grandiose Plaça Sant Jaume down Libretería and it’s easy to miss this little gem. Patience and a keen eye do however pay off and you will find, nestled amongst the plethora of cheap ‘I ♥ BCN’ trinkets imported from China, a coffee house of the highest order.
Established in 1909, this unpretentious – almost rustic – establishment has been quietly picking up awards throughout the years. Correction. Decades. And for good reason. Aside from the tasty selection of pastries and churros on display, coffee is the real star attraction here.
It’s a lively little place. The chain smoking owners take turns between feeding their nicotine addiction and serving the brisk turnover of caffeine depleted customers. The clientele is as diverse as the conversations are animated. From starry-eyed lovers to fatigued day trippers; families spanning the generations to old friends confiding with each other in hushed tones; punctuated only by solo ‘sixty-seconders’ in search of instant fortification (because it takes that time to order, polish off a cortado, pay and leave). There are some real characters too. One eccentric regular, whom I presume lives above the Coffee Inn, occasionally pops in to converse with the customers and to introduce his petite two year-old mongrel dog affectionately called ‘Mimi the Terrorist’ to anyone who takes an interest.
Perched at the end of the narrow wooden bar that runs the three-quarter length of this cosy establishment, I decide to divert my body’s innate need to take a mid-afternoon siesta and order a cortado (from the Spanish ‘cortar’ or ‘tallat’ in Catalan). A popular pick-me-up in Spain, Portugal, Cuba and Latin America, a cortado is essentially an espresso ‘cut’ with a ratio of 1:1 steamed milk and a dash of foam to gently round off the edges of its intense, flavourful kick. It judiciously arrives served in a glass accompanied by not one, but two bowls of sugar.
The mid-height wall panels made from old hessian coffee sacks from the Merconta plantation in Brazil are just an understated nod to the provenance of the beans and their long journey to reach this exceptional cafeteria. Above, are faded black and white photographs of fresh-faced baristas of years gone by. A fascinating array of framed artefacts also adorn the wood-panelled walls and speak of the many magical moments that can only begin to describe this coffee house’s prestigious history.
On recommendation from the unflappable, but attentive owner, the next course was a superbly balanced 28 year-old Catalan brandy to soften the arresting volcanic blow of the cortado. Wishing to savour the moment a while longer, I finish up with an unhurried cafe con leche.
Rumour has it that the ‘house’ Picardía (a mix of espresso, condensed milk and whiskey) is also without parallel. But I had had my fill, content in the knowledge that I had found a small corner of coffee heaven right in the heart of Barcelona’s Ciutat Vella.
And if anyone is still in need of convincing of the Mesón del Café’s grounded charm, look no further than the corner window above the entrance. There you will find pictured a coffee jar overflowing with a steaming fresh brew of coffee. Look a little closer, and carefully painted on the vessel is the faint outline of one of Kaldi’s very own legendary Ethiopian ‘dancing goats’. Need I say any more?
Bean on a Crutch rating: 5/5 stars