Located: Av Balboa con Av Aquilino de la Guardia, Galerias Balboa.
Hours: Mon - Fri: 7:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.; Sat: 7:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Item: double espresso on ice
Price: $2.75 ($2 for the first shot and $.75 for the second)
Electricity & wifi: plug-in available along the back wall; speedy internet; password provided by cashier
Description: I made the mistake of trying to order like I was at a Starbucks – “grande iced drip coffee with no sweetener or room for cream or sugar, please – and the barista showed me a tub of frappe powder and pointed at the ingredients. I ordered a double-espresso on ice, and the two shots came with a large cup of ice. I know little about espresso preparation and don’t know if this is proper preparation etiquette, but I liked watching the ice melt as I poured the hot shots into the cup. The result alleviated my morning headache. This café also serves miniature cupcakes.
Tree House Market & Coffee
Located: Ave Balboa y calle 47 Bella vista, Edificio Yoo, Planta baja
Hours: 6:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Item: double espresso
Electricity & wifi: two outlets inset in the floor next to windows and wine case; internet quick enough for YouTube playlists; no password required
Description: With a small gourmet supermarket downstairs and a café and restaurant upstairs, this popular lunch venue in Panama’s banking district serves many needs. Facebook: “Somos un nuevo concepto nuevo de MiniMarket y Coffee shop que ofrece una diversidad de productos de muy alta calidad cubriendo los gustos mas refinados.” (Translated: “We are a fresh new-concept market and coffee shop offering a variety of high quality products covering the most refined tastes.”) True to their word, the interior is modern with yellow, tangerine, lime, and white leaves dangling in the air. Potted plants in tall white vases stand among ergonomic chairs, and stories about fallen trees line the pillars around the upstairs cafe. A black and white photomural of a forest of oak trees hangs in the stairs. The combined effect of the clean and open space is, as the slogan outside the building says, “a place of nature in the city.” While the gourmet market downstairs sells organic apple juice, wild strawberry spreads, hot vegetable dips, fresh vegetables (broccoli, mushrooms, bell peppers, and more), and a selection of wines and cheeses, the upstairs restaurant offers sit-down service and à la carte ordering for espresso. My double espresso was exquisite, so I took my time.
Located: Calle Anastacio Ruiz Noriega con calle 53 este, frente a Banco General
Hours: 8:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.
Item: double Americano
Electricity & wifi: no plug-ins; speedy internet; password provided by cashier
Description: This place was so cheap the price bears repeating: $1.60 for a double Americano. After paying $2 or $3 or more for similar drinks elsewhere, I was ecstatic to hand over two dollar bills and get change in return. As for the coffee, the result was so hot I could barely hold the paper cup, and that’s a good thing. After several afternoons of stirring Nescafé instant crystals into glasses of water heated in a microwave and/or reheating that morning’s drip coffee on a stove at my place of residence, I held my cup and watched the steam come off the top until I burnt my fingers. True to its name, Bredos serves popular sandwiches with sides of soup. Recommendation for studying: the second floor has less foot traffic. Arrive with your devices full charged and enjoy a quiet space for hours. Bottom line: I’ll be back because of the prices.
El Machico Hostel
Located: Casa 2, Calle 47 Este
Hours: While the hostel common area doesn’t seem to “officially” close, breakfast ends at 10:00 a.m.
Item: drip coffee, no sugar or cream
Price: free with room and board ($15 / night)
Electricity & wifi: the downstairs eating area has numerous plug-ins but the wifi is slow. I used the wifi from a neighboring establishment
Description: Get the morning coffee while you can. While the incredibly friendly desk attendants and employees make more coffee upon request, the initial morning brew runs out. That said, the kitchen area is spotless, and whoever’s making thermos after thermos of coffee in the kind of small drip machine university students use in dormitories is doing some work. For those planning to study as they travel, this hostel is a quieter alternative to Luna’s Castle hostel in Casco Viejo, known by some as the “party” hostel. The open areas are relaxed, especially in the morning, and I enjoyed rewarding myself every now and then with a well-deserved study break in the clean and cool pool, floating on a hostel-provided inflatable mattress in the morning and afternoon sunlight.
No web presence
Located: Marbella Royal Center
Hours: 7:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m.
Item: single Americano
Electricity & wifi: no wifi, but one electrical outlet along the wall
Description: With only three small tables and stools along the bar for customers to sit, this cafe doesn’t have space to spare. The simple set-up elsewhere maximizes the minimal area: home-made pastries line a small glass case, a rack of packaged peanuts sits by the cash register, a refrigerator chills drinks next to a painting of schoolchildren playing trumpets, and an espresso machine hunkers in back. Lacking wifi and comfortable seating (the wicker-seated chairs do not encourage settling in), this is not a place to spend an afternoon working but could be a good stop on one’s way to work or to school, or to meet up with friends for a brief chat. The hot espresso was solid overall. The steaming Americano was bitter in the best way possible and had a bold, decisive flavor. To top it off, the drink came with a free gingerbread cookie.
All photos by Derek Smith.