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At the top of a steep cobblestone street framed by mustard-yellow buildings hides Ki’bok Coffee, a tiny café that serves some of the best coffee in the world. The popular tourist spot—whose name means “good aromas” in a Maya language local to Tulum, where the business originated—is open and airy, the physical manifestation of an Esquivel! album, usually filled with tourists, expats, and locals alike.
It’s in good company in San Miguel de Allende, a colonial-era city of 140,000 in Mexico’s central highlands. Founded in the 16th century, the city is known for its stunning, UNESCO-recognised baroque and neoclassical architecture—and for its internationally renowned, locally sourced, and meticulously prepared gourmet coffee.
Baristas smile inside Ki’Bok in San Miguel de Allende. San Miguel’s Ki’Bok is actually the second in Mexico; owner Joel Cunningham, along with his sisters and parents, opened their first shop in Tulum five years ago.
PHOTOGRAPH BY SARAH FAITH, BEAR LIGHT PHOTOGRAPHY
Why is San Miguel’s coffee perfect for true aficionados? It all comes down to a few factors: source, preparation, and pride.
“We have strong faith in Mexican beans,” says Christian Zaíd, one of the owners of El Café de la Mancha. The tiny joint in San Miguel’s downtown Zona Centro ethically sources its beans from a small farm some 644 kilometres away in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca.
“We need to have the traceable information about the beans, the process, [and] the date of roast,” Zaíd explains. The team’s philosophy of “good beans, good extraction and good results” helps contribute to San Miguel’s reputation. (Most shops in San Miguel share a similar fair-trade ethos, sourcing responsibly from the state of Oaxaca.)
Even given good beans, preparation must be meticulous. At Ki’Bok, baristas measure their shots and precisely control their temperatures. La Mancha also takes a scientific approach to coffee preparation, giving customers nearly a dozen ways to order their brew, from AeroPress (an ultra-modern, multistep brew) to Japanese siphon (a vacuum-powered, mad-scientist contraption).
As Ki’Bok’s name suggests, the small café is awash in the chocolaty aroma of fresh-brewed coffee. While the menu lists the typical offerings—espresso, cappuccino, cold brew—there are a few surprises, including the roaster’s signature Hemingway, a Cuban cortado double espresso served with an infusion of brown sugar and a touch of foam topped with powdered cinnamon.
Sourcing and preparation play a part in making San Miguel’s coffee great—but so does pride. The fact is, it’s rare that a coffee-producing country gets to enjoy its own product.
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“It’s unfortunate that not every country that produces great quality coffee actually gets to consume it the way that we do in America,” says Edwards. “Mexico is an exception.”
When the world’s renowned coffee producers—Colombia, Ethiopia, Guatemala—export a bean valuable for its rare microclimate and particular processing, they price out the farmers who produced it, says Edwards. But in San Miguel de Allende, where generations of foreign residents have contributed to the city’s wealth, Mexicans can consume the world-class brews their country produces.
Plan your trip
The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it flight from Mexico City to San Miguel de Allende is typically under $200. Charming hotels and villas are easily booked through Airbnb, among them the beautiful Casaluna Hotel Boutique and Rosewood San Miguel de Allende.
After getting your caffeine fix at Ki’Bok, La Mancha, or another local café, take some time to wander: The narrow cobblestone streets are an adventure in their own right, leading you to hidden gems like La Sirena Gorda bar or El Charco del Ingenio Botanic Garden. And before you leave, make sure to check out the Mercado de Artesanías to find handcrafted shoes, belts, rugs, trinkets, and more for cheap prices.
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PHOTOGRAPH BY ,ANTONIO FECI, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC YOUR SHOT
Jeremy Glass is a writer living in the uncool part of Brooklyn. Follow Jeremy on Twitter @CandyandPizza.