Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Yo Soy El Exigente

When I was a kid I always confused Juan Valdez and El Exigente. After all, they were both mustachioed Colombians who had something to do with coffee. I think people still confuse these two characters, or at least those old enough to remember El Exigente do. El Exigente may be a memory, but Juan Valdez is still the icon of the National Federation of Coffee Growers of Colombia.

It's ironic that the two characters would be confused, as they represent distinct social classes. El Exigente (played on TV by Ricardo Montalbaln's brother Carlos), the coffee taster for Savarin, the demanding one, was an aristocrat and a gourmet. Even his brand was named for a legendary gourmet, Brillat-Savarin. Juan Valdez is a coffee farmer, a humble campesino. But to Americans in the 'sixties, a mustachioed Latino was a mustachioed Latino.

Anyway, Juan Valdez has made me El Exigente, because I've fallen head over heels in love with the coffee from the Juan Valdez Cafe, an international chain sponsored by the Colombian coffee growers federation. Currently they have U.S. locations in Manhattan, Philadelphia, D.C. and Seattle, as well as shops in Colombia, Ecuador, Chile and Spain. The coffee is superb, and the prices are reasonable, cheaper than Starbucks and infinitely preferable to their swill. I'm especially enamored of two of their specialty brewed coffees, the cardamomo and the anisido, made with freshly ground cardamom or anise. The cardamomo reminds me of the flavor of Turkish coffee, but because it's filtered it works well with milk. The anise adds a very slight sweetness to the coffee, and I prefer to drink it black without sugar.

But it's not just the coffee that draws me to the Juan Valdez Cafe. I've also become addicted to their traditional Colombian breakfast pastries (which seem to be available all day). The pan de bono is a sweet (but not too) cheese bread made with cassava flour and "queso fresco," a mild white cheese. It's great, but even better is the arepa de chocolo (or choclo), a sweet corn pancake. It's made with both cornmeal and mashed corn kernels, so it's very moist. The arepas at the Juan Valdez cafe are huge and filling, served topped with white cheese. I'm sure they're extremely caloric, so I eat them less frequently than I'd really like to. After all, I don't want to morph from El Exigente into El Gordo.

Juan Valdez Cafe, Manhattan Locations:
140 E. 57th St. (near Lexington)
480 Lexington Ave. (at 46th St.)
1451 Broadway (at 41st St.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Peter, I'm one of those "old enough" espresso aficionados who would remember El Exigente and Juan Valdez enough to confuse them. As soon as I saw "the Savarin man," however, I remembered the difference instantly.

Thanks for a good memory, and for the Juan Valdez Café suggestions; since I'm here in Nueva York, I'll try them. Nothing quite like an excellent espresso taken with a premium cigar; even having fallen out of favor has not diminished the pleasure of doing so. Thanks again!

Rashied ~

5:42 PM  

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