By Robert Bradley
One of the joys of reviewing local cafes is noticing how they influence my understanding of Cuenca. I am always intrigued when visiting a visually creative space and meeting interesting people practicing their expression of circumstance — being on the job, preparing meals and drinks.
I am often delighted by the fresh (and occasionally reckless) energy of young creatives determined to enhance our appreciation of their world vision, occasionally in ways we have yet to consider.
A fresh example of this creative burst is, Tierra Diabla, on the Plazoleta Cruz Del Vado.
A seemingly unusual combination; photo-journalist, Omar Hidalgo, visual artist, Belén Mogrovejo, and Ana Benavides, a helicopter pilot, joined forces to create a culturally diverse venue showcasing small-batch Ecuador grown coffee, traditional pastries of South America, and a worldwide representation of artisan crafts and musical styles.
When I visited, the featured offering was a Venezuelan favorite, the sweet and crunchy Papelon Roll, a cane sugar roulade, thick-sliced and baked with a soft cheese topping. It was paired with a freshly brewed cup of Vienna Roast — the robust flavor of the semi-dark maillard was a perfect foil to the ultra-sweet sugar cane.
Additional offerings of note include a traditional Columbian banana bread, paired with a light American Roast and “Mamma’s” golden carrot cake, as springy and light as any sunrise, that held up nicely when paired with a mid-range, ample bodied, Full City Roast. All three are fabulous ways to add those few extra calories you’ve been promising yourself to get in shape for the holidays.
A very reassuring host, Benavides approaches the nuance of science-based coffee production with an evangelical zeal I have rarely encountered in Cuenca. She maintains a notebook recording each patron’s preferences. First-time visitors are offered an Azuay-grown light-roasted brew similar to American, or Full City Roast, to serve as an introduction to their program of fine-tuning individual preference for taste and acidity. Repeat guests are gently led through the full range of roastings from the classic American Roast to the shiny nightshades of Vienna and French, and finally the monster dark star itself, all double cracked and oily and tasting of coal, the estimable and syrupy Italian Roast.
Even the most casual visitor is certain to come away with a deeper knowledge of, and a greater appreciation for, the intricacy of preparing a perfect cup of coffee.
The “three amigos” of Tierra Diabla have set a lofty goal for themselves that has been attempted by many and left but few survivors. La Guarida and Republica Sur have both been scrutinized by city code enforcement lately due to their unconventional appeal and creative showcasing of progressive and esoteric talent. One Cuenca venue was recently cited and severely fined for not having a discotheque permit after a single woman stood to boogie in her seat during an acoustic dinner/theatre performance in a restaurant. Another “creative space” was cited by city code enforcement staff (since corrected) for serving more wine than food in their venue as part of a contractual agreement for a private party booked by and hosted by…the Office of the Mayor, City of Cuenca.
My first impression of Tierra Diabla was very satisfying. Service was prompt, the host was engaging without being intrusive. Of course, it is all about the coffee and their effort is well appreciated. Those who have developed a more discriminant palate will be thrilled to find a venue seriously invested in all aspects of coffee production, and those looking for a comfortable plazoleta without the crowds to have a cup of coffee will be similarly impressed.
Tierra Diabla is among the more adventurous ventures I’ve visited in a while, so it came as a relief to know that the partners developed a detailed multi-year business plan and have no illusions as to the long hours required to reach escape velocity and join the constellation of establishments poised to endure. In the meantime, we can expect to be well served by a knowledgeable staff anxious to please your palate while expanding your knowledge of coffee, from farm-to-table and cup to cup.