Location: Carrer de la Palla, 8
Beans on the menu: Café Mochy Mezcla
Caffeine delivery method: Cortado
Crutch compatibility: 2/5 stars. Negotiating the steep stairs to the basement could prove fatal for the crutch-enabled crusader (there are street-level vestibules available for the less inclined)
Hit to the wallet: €4,55
Music playing: Stevie Wonder (and friends)
Architecture aside, one of the most striking features of Barcelona is the prodigious amount of tapas bars and cafes. So finding good, distinctive coffee bars in a caffeinated city of this magnitude is a bit like trying to find a needle in a pile of proverbial needles. There are so many, they are in danger of starting to all look the same. But on recommendation from a friend and long-standing resident of BCN, I had the good fortune to be guided to a place that can only be described as ‘heavenly’. Except it isn’t really a coffee house in the truest sense of the word; it’s a little more tempting than that.
Just a beans’ throw from the Church of Santa María del Pi (St. Mary of the Pine Tree), Caelum enjoys a commanding corner spot in the centre of El Barri Gòtic. The high windows that advertise an alluring display of cakes, baked goodies and sweets that wait within are an irresistible enticement for the coffee enthusiast in need of some earthly salvation.
Since 1998, Caelum (named after a constellation in the southern hemisphere) has been sourcing much of its celestial culinary creations from the vast network of convents and monasteries that span the Iberian Peninsula. Thanks to the dedication of monks and nuns across the land, there is more than enough wholesome refreshment to satisfy the taste buds of the most demanding pilgrim. Seeking purely to find sanctuary in the bean however, I opt to indulge my uninitiated senses in the bowels of the building rather than at street level.
Once you have laid siege to the short, steep flight of stairs down to the basement, Gothic arches and friendly staff invite you to find welcome rest in Caelum’s very own crypt. Soft candlelight gently illuminates the exposed brick surroundings whilst the soothing tones of Stevie Wonder and friends (Curtis Mayfield, Otis Reading etc) are a comforting psalm for the ears. Paradoxically, it feels like descending into a higher place where coffee, tea, sweet monastic delights, funk and soul play their part in perfect harmony. This has to be a first.
Before leafing through the menu, the cover reads:
“El olor de la santidad es una mezcla de membrillo y rosa, muy delicada…” Paraselso
(The smell of holiness is a mix of quince and rose, very delicate…)
It’s an interesting quote to contemplate whilst Stevie Wonder simultaneously funks out ‘Superstition’ over the stereo. Deciding to take my cue from Señor Wonder, I reject the holier virtues of quince and rose and soon find solace in a righteously smooth Cortado and sinful Bonbó de figa con rom y brandi (Bonbon of fig with brandy and rum). Dare I say it? The combination was pretty heavenly.
Although the well-healed clientele are testament to the fact that this establishment isn’t necessarily kind to the wallet or purse, you could easily be forgiven for throwing caution to the wind by indulging in temptations such as: Puff Pastry filled with Angel Hair; Carolina’s Brownies from the Monastery; Saint’s Bone; Cheese from the Monastery of San Pedro de Cardeña; Toast with lashings of Strawberry Jam of Sor Elena, Herbal teas infused with an Elixir of Roses; Trappistes Rochefort beer, Reservas from the Monasterio de la Olivia; and Santiago’s Tart amongst other gastronomic delights. The coffee is also good. Nor does it have that familiar bitter or burnt aftertaste to it that all too many cafes serve up.
Having paid my dues I ascend ungracefully back upstairs aided by my faithful crutch and guiltily eye up the delicious selection of monastic pickles, honey, jam, wine, liquor, vinegar, oil, chocolate and biscuits on my way out.
I have to confess that Caelum is unashamedly a refuge for hungry, saintly and sinning pilgrims alike. If you have indeed given into temptation (and who could possibly blame you if you have?), prepare yourself for a long wait if you’re looking for a miracle to be performed on the bill.
But it’s well worth taking to the road for.
Bean on a Crutch rating: 4/5 stars