If you’ve yet to discover #ilivewhereyouvacation, I’d advise you to not look it up while you’re working.
Puerto Rico is one place you’ll see a lot when you search that hashtag. And it’s no wonder – although the country has its struggles, many of which result from years of economic depression, it’s also a beautiful country filled with fun-loving locals. We’ve got white-sand beaches, soaring mountains, tropical rainforests, and charming colonial streets. You can dive down to coral reefs and hike to waterfalls, all before hitting the bars for a piña colada.
Of course, we know you can’t go a whole holiday without a coffee (or ten). So if you’ve already started packing a suitcase full of shorts and swimwear, I have a list of five cafés you simply must visit. #tropicaleo
Why These Five?
As a barista, I’m often asked who has the “best” coffee on Puerto Rico, and my answer is always the same: there’s not one café that sits above the rest. However, there are a lot of great coffee shops and brands here – and my respect goes out to anyone passionate enough to do what they do.
The cafés listed here, in no particular order, are my personal favorites. I should mention that I’ve had the opportunity to work for a few of them, but the only things I’ve taken into account are the coffee, the baristas, and the café atmosphere. Additionally, this list isn’t definitive, because this country has far more than just five great cafés: treat my recommendations as an introduction to the diversity of Puerto Rican coffee culture.
1. Gustos Café
When the door handles are portafilters, you know a place is serious about coffee. But it’s not just the drinks that make Gustos Café worth a visit. Dimly lit, rustic, and beautifully decorated, it’s the kind of coffee shop you’ll want to spend hours in. Settle in on their long, black couch and make yourself at home. Even if you’ve forgotten to bring a book, time will fly by because the baristas are super chill; they’ll happily talk about anything from CrossFit to music.
As for the coffee, it’s no surprise it’s good. Gustos opened about three years ago as a showroom for buyers interested in espresso machines and coffee equipment, as well as a space in which to give Barista Basics classes. Right in the back of the shop, you’ll find the warehouse where they roast and pack their coffee. Yet the most impressive thing about it is the cupping room, complete with a sample roaster and rotating table.
|Where||Urb. Mario Julia Industrial Park 530 Calle A, San Juan|
|Espresso Machine||3 group La Marzocco Strada|
|Coffee Offerings||Traditional espresso-based menu plus pour over bar; they serve their own coffee from Yauco, Puerto Rico|
Gustos Café has style, friendliness, and great coffee. Credit: @angelikmaria via Instagram
2. Hacienda San Pedro
One of the island’s most popular coffee houses, it opened shop seven years ago in Santurce, a run-down neighborhood saved by its street art. The bright white shop is usually bustling with artists, yogis, cyclists, dog lovers, and other assorted customers – not to mention the upbeat baristas! Yet stopping by for an espresso followed by a double latte, and purchasing a pound of beans to take home with you, is a must.
Hacienda San Pedro is a great example of a farm-to-cup business. They have a plantation and coffee mill up in the mountains of Jayuya, along with three coffee houses. The other two are in Hato Rey and Miramar, but the one in Santurce remains the local favorite – and you can combine it with a visit to the Museo de Arte right across the street.
|Where||318 Ave. De Diego, Santurce, San Juan|
|Vibe||High-energy spot in an artsy location|
|Espresso Machine||3 group Synesso Hydra|
|Coffee Offerings||An espresso-based menu featuring their own coffee from Jayuaya|
|Food Offerings||Tasty bite-sized pastries|
A surprisingly quiet moment at Café Hacienda San Pedro in Santurce. Credit: Hacienda San Pedro
3. Old San Juan
My last recommendation for San Juan is actually an area rather than just one coffee shop. Old San Juan is a beautiful place, full of colorful houses, pretty balconies, and coffee shops. Bring sunscreen, water, and comfortable shoes, because you’re going to walk a lot – but trust me, it’ll be worth it.
Start your day at Café Colao right by Ferry Terminal 2 on Paseo Concepción de Gracia. Small and friendly, this was one of the first coffee places to open up in the area, and it’s where a lot of great local baristas started.
Explore a little more of Old San Juan before heading up to Cuatro Sombras on Calle Recinto Sur. Two shops in one, the front of the store has a small mezzanine with a working roaster while at the back there’s a lab offering a more relaxed experience. My recommendation: have a mid-week late morning Chemex brew and some guava butter toast on the vine-covered patio.
I hope you have great caffeine resistance, because next up is Finca Cialitos on Calle San Francisco. As you look around, you’ll see many handmade things; there’s a personal touch in every little detail of this shop.
Once you’re done instagramming, walk a couple of blocks uphill towards Café Don Ruiz, on the interior of the Ballajá Barracks. The last stop of your San Juan tour mixes coffee with rum and cigars. Pick an alternative brewing method as your last cup, before sitting on a bench by El Morro Fort to watch the day slip away.
|Where||Old San Juan|
|Vibe||Touristy meets traditional|
|Espresso Machine||Café Colao has a Nuova Simonelli, Cuatro Sombras a 3 group Slayer, Finca Cialitos a Rancilio, and Café Don Ruiz another La Marzocco|
|Coffee Offerings||Café Colao serve a house blend, Cuatro Sombras beans from Hacienda Santa Clara, Finca Cialitos offer beans from Ciales, and Café Don Ruiz coffee from Yauco|
Take a whole day to explore the walled city of San Juan. Credit: @ray_con_a via Instagram
4. Friend’s Café
Once you’ve had your dose of the island’s capital, hop onto Highway 22 and head over to the west coast – you’re only two hours away from a kicking coffee scene. First stop: Mayaguez.
Friend’s Café is one of my personal favorites in Mayaguez. There are two locations but I recommend the one in the town square for a real boricua (Puerto Rican) experience. The large orange umbrellas will let you know you’re in the right spot. Open since 2007, Friend’s is a community-driven shop, hence the name.
|Where||Calle Peral, the town square, in Mayaguez|
|Vibe||Friendly – true to its name, it’s the perfect place to gather with friends|
|Food Offerings||The Calle Peral location serves small pastries, but if you’re looking for a great breakfast try Friend’s Café Litoral on Ave. José González Clemente|
Friend’s Café, a small but cheerful spot in the town square. Credit: @rickyrodam via Instagram
5. Love Shack
Your second stop in Mayaguez is a quirky new shop that originated from a Kickstarter campaign and a lot of enthusiasm. The crew that runs Love Shack is young, laid-back, and creative. Every day is a new experience – you may find yourself watching a short play, creating blackout poetry, or doing something else altogether.
It’s not just the art that brings people here, though. Great coffee and spectacular food make it an all-round delight.
|Where||Calle San Vicente 8-B Oueste|
|Vibe||Artsy and fun|
|Espresso Machine||Rocket R58|
|Coffee Offerings||Don Pello coffee from Ciales|
|Food Offerings||They serve a mean brunch – I tried the Strawberry Cheesecake French Toast with bacon, and have no regrets|
Love Shack: great art, great food, great coffee. Credit: @luisyopr
A trip to Puerto Rico wouldn’t be complete without a stop by a café for some local coffee. The ones I’ve recommended are a great introduction to the coffee culture of our little archipelago – so order a café con leche or a V60, sit back, and relax.
Written by V. Cruz and edited by T. Newton. Feature photo credit: Yeli Feliciano.
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