Coffee comes out of a lot of contraptions in Colombia. Top place goes to the mule, the coffee machine perched atop a carrousel animal at Café a la Loma de la Mula. Thus the cycle of crop to cup comes full circle, as these are the same beasts of burden that originally bore the bags of coffee from the farm into town.
Coffee is sold out of thermoses.
If you park yourself on a park bench, soon enough you’ll see someone slowly wheeling a cart down the path. The vendor doesn’t have to announce her product or ask at each cluster of people if anyone’s interested. The brightly colored lids peeking out the top of the white cart are the give-away.
She spots a weak-wristed beckon and weaves her cart over. It’s a silent exchange. For anywhere from $200 to $600 Colombian pesos, you receive a single serving of tinto, or diluted black coffee in a little plastic cup. A group of elderly gentlemen whiling away the afternoon in a town park can go through several cups of tinto each, which unfortunately generates a lot of trash.
This coffee is not recommended for its quality (usually the cheapest brand of instantaneous coffee) or freshness (no refill of supplies that whole afternoon). It’s rather for the picnic aesthetic of leisurely sipping on a beverage in a shady plaza, for the solidarity of doing so with perhaps newly found companions, for the support for a vendor who perhaps is a single mother struggling to make ends meet the only way she knows how: making a slim margin on everyone’s favorite drink.
Coffee is sold out of backpacks.
They look like lost farmworkers. There are too many displaced rural migrants in Colombian cities, but these guys look like they stepped straight off an industrial production lot. Dressed in a white jumpsuit, with a metallic spray canister strapped to their back, they wander around city streets waving a tube at passer-byers who just may be passer-buyers. From a nozzle, they too dispense weak tinto into the same flimsy plastic cups as the thermos vendors, which sadly end up littering urban landscapes.
The portability allows them to walk straight into offices and businesses to offer a caffeine recharge to workers who can’t afford to take time away from their desk. Even in workplaces with an office kitchen, stocked with ceramic mugs, the staff sip their tintos from the vendor’s disposable cups.
Coffee is sold out of copper vats.
Some parks have open-air antique sales on the weekends. It’s like a flea market, but you have to stoop to examine all the knickknacks laid out on the pavement. Other parks have antique copper vats on display year-round, but what’s for sale is the coffee inside. The tinto comes out of spigots.
At least in most cafes with stationary aluminum coffee dispensers (greca cafetera), the coffee is still served in ceramic mugs, ranging from the classic Café de Colombia chinaware to cheesy Disney designs, not disposable plastic tinto cups. These places deserve to be patronized for protecting the environment.
Coffee is sold silently, thank goodness.
The best part about coffee sellers is that they don’t need to hawk their wares.
Other street vendors in Colombia make their presence known by announcing via a megaphone, tooting bicycle horns, hollering, blowing whistles, hitting repeat on their recorded jingle, mumbling into a microphone, or singing their singular pronunciation of their product.
The good folks that sell coffee are wonderfully quiet. Their mere presence is enough to call the attention of caffeine addicts. Let the aroma entice the masses! Bless all of you vendedores ambulantes de tinto for bringing a slice of silence and a sip of energy straight to our seat.