As a general rule, coffee in Baja is a disappointment.
I don't mean the actual plants or the seeds that come from them; there's some truly amazing coffee coming out of states from San Luis Potosí all the way south to Chiapas.
No, I mean that by and large, finding a good cup of coffee in Baja is just about impossible, because there's not really a coffee culture. Coffee is really only drunk in the morning, and is doctored up with spices, sugar and milk to make a delicious but completely unrelated drink called café de la olla, and still has to compete with things like te de canela and atole.
Finding my morning joe in Tijuana, then, has meant I have to go to Starbucks, until I discovered Das Cortez, which serves up the Italian coffees of my youth. They don't make filtered coffee, though, since they're an espresso bar, and sometimes I just want a cup of black coffee. What is an undercaffeinated, itinerant estadounidense to do?
Imagine my surprise, then, when I made a desperate turn to escape the ridiculous traffic that ensues during Tijuana's Ciclovía car-free days, which shut down Paseo de los Héroes, and found myself in front of a third-wave coffee shop saying (in English), “No milk, no sugar.” I walked into a beautiful, warmly decorated coffee bar staffed by two eager people who took ten minutes out of their day to explain to me their philosophy of coffee. Caffe Sospeso–which takes its name from the Neapolitan pay-it-forward tradition of “suspended coffee”, where you pay for two coffees but only drink one, so that someone down on his or her luck can have a free coffee later–has been in Tijuana for 18 years, but has concentrated lately on changing the coffee culture on the south side of la línea.
If you've ever had Portola, Intelligentsia, Blue Bottle, etc., you'll know the spiel: lighter roasts, extremely technical extraction via methods like pourover (though Sospeso still specializes in French presses as well, which emulsify the coffee's natural oil so it's actually a thicker drink). The coffee I chose–Peruvian–was excellent. I had an espresso, too, and it was as good as any in Italy. And unlike some U.S. third-wave coffee shops, this was all delivered without any trace of hipster attitude or sniffy judgment. (Don't get me wrong; they still don't have sugar or milk–they're just not snotty about it.)
The only thing missing from the experience was Mexican coffee beans; I'd love to see the excellent beans from Chiapas and Oaxaca (and elsewhere) get the third-wave treatment, to really open up their outstanding floral qualities.
Caffe Sospeso is at Joaquín Clausell 10342, one block east of the intersection of Sánchez Taboada and Cuauhtémoc (the free road to Ensenada), across from Cablemás. They are open Mon.-Tue. 7 a.m.-9 p.m., Wed.-Fri. 7 a.m.-10 p.m., Sat. 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m., Sun. noon-6 p.m. The website is caffesospeso.com; the telephone number is 011-52-664-634-31-84.