Amid the chaos of San José’s east side, on the road to Sabanilla with its zooming traffic and lingering car exhaust, is a sanctuary of warmth and goodness called Artemesia. The smell of fresh-baked herb bread and freshly brewed specialty coffee – and the sign reading “Rollos de Canela” (cinnamon rolls) – lure customers into this small, unique bakery for an eating experience that warms the soul.
Since opening in December 2007, the family-owned bakery has attracted a committed clientele who are now part of the Artemesia family.
“I wanted a place where when people come in, they feel like they’re in a homey place, relaxed, not rushed, not in a line,” says baker and Artemesia founder Joaquín Solís, known to all as Quincho.
His vision has become a reality thanks to the bakery’s dedication to giving personalized attention to every customer. Clients are known by name, and their favorite breads are always remembered.
This sincere, genuine treatment is interconnected with the slow, dedicated process the bakers undertake to make their breads truly artisanal. First, the flour must be aged anywhere from days to weeks, depending on the bread. Second, instant yeast cannot be used. Third, preservatives are never used. Finally, the dough needs to rise twice before baking.
What emerges from this detailed process? Herb baguettes, whole wheat bread, onion loaves, La Toscana made with olive oil, Campiña made with butter and a pinch of oregano, cheddar and onion bread with or without picante, and the Sally Lunn, a sweet bread (₡1,200-2,000/$2.40-4). The recipes for these staple Artemesia breads originated with Quincho’s late father-in-law. Other specialty breads include rye, focaccia and Parmesan baguette, available only on weekends or by advance request.
Complementing Artemesia’s savory breads and specialty cheeses – cream cheese with basil and garlic (₡800/$1.60) and aged cheese (₡10,000/$20 per kilogram) – is a delectable variety of sweet baked goods made with the time-honored recipes of Viviana Cartín, Quincho’s partner, or Viviana’s mother, María Luisa Fernández. Quincho and Viviana spent many years in the United States, and the influence of those years can be seen in the selection of sweets offered by the bakery.
Viviana knew her cinnamon rolls (₡1,000/$2) would be a big hit, through perhaps not to the extent of the 70 a day gobbled up by Artemesia’s customers. The sign outside lets people know the rollos are fresh and hot inside, and it is a sad event when the sign goes down or a customer enters to find the rolls all gone. Many are willing to wait or return for the next batch.
Carrot cake, brownies, oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip cookies, lemon cake and banana cake (₡300-1,100/$0.60-2.20) are some of the delicacies familiar to North Americans. In addition, the bakery offers scones, Butterkuchen (a German almond and butter cake) and alfajores, the Argentine sandwich cookie made with dulce de leche (₡200-800/$0.40-1.60). Tico specialties such as budín (a firm bread pudding) and queque navideño Christmas cake with rum-soaked raisins come from Viviana’s mother, who enjoys having the business next door to her home because her children and grandchildren “come around.”
Other key members of the Artemesia family are bakers Danny Murillo and Jairo Sibaja, who learned the baking process from Quincho and are there with him Monday through Saturday. Jairo says it is “more than a job,” and that Quincho has helped him to be able to study. Danny, who worked in a commercial bakery in his native Nicaragua, has also been welcomed with open arms into the family.
Frida Cartín, Viviana’s sister, is the face of Artemesia for many. She says she enjoys getting to know the customers.
“The customers want to know different flavors, they want to try new things,” she says. “And the customers return. One learns from them, and to watch the business grow is beautiful.”
Artemesia is 125 meters east of the Rotonda Betania in Sabanilla. For information, call 2280-7997 or e-mail [email protected].