Monday, September 7, 2009

Rome Espresso Run

visited: 04/08/09

It feels good to be traveling and drinking coffee yet again, I think I’ve almost forgotten what Espresso Run started out to be, but no worries, I am back on track.

The city of Rome is simply amazing! Rich cultural experiences are truly overwhelming; history, architecture, art, food and of course coffee … The Romans claim that their coffee is among the best in Italy and are very proud of their long espresso history. With such high statements I had to put the Italians to the test and discover the coffee for myself.

I am actually going to write some thoughts and conclusions before listing my picks, it would just make more sense in the end …

Simple rule is: no milky drinks after noon only espresso, its every baristas dream not to be swamped by latte customers.

Looking from the “new wave” of espresso brewing, I would describe espresso in Rome rather old fashioned due to lack of care. Baristas don’t strive to perfect the coffee, it is made with speed and lack of attention hence the word “espresso”. Simple steps like wiping the basket, flushing the machine, cleaning the steam wand and so on - seem to be the thing of the future?!?!?! Having said that, the experience from my visit is unforgettably rewarding, so here are my picks …

Cristalli di zucchero (Via di San Teodoro 88)

This is a brand new pasticeria and espresso bar offering a large variety of designer pastries and gelati. At the back of the shop they have a brand new la marzocco linea, this was the only la marzocco machine that we have come across so were very eager to try the coffee, to my surprise this was the best espresso I’ve had in Rome. Our barista knew a little bit about the coffee and had told us that they actually have 2 locations and do their own roasting on sight, he strongly emphasised that the coffee used was 100% arabica beans. The coffee was fantastic and I strongly recommend making this trip.

We accidently stumbled across this shop and you have to have your eyes open to find it as there are no signs outside, its tucked away on one of the roads close to Circo Massimo and is fairly easy to find if you map it out. Be sure to try their fresh ricotta cannoli it is superb! Their machine plays a big role in espresso quality, as suppose to other espresso bars that use extremely old and worn out machines as part of the overall charm.

Caffe Tazza D'Oro, (Via Degli Orfani 84. (Pantheon))

This is a historic espresso bar that been established in 1946. The walls are filled with various photographs and different coffee bags. This is one of the places that has an active probat coffee roaster. This drum roaster is very old and could well be from the 60’s, they roast in-house few times a week but early in the mornings, so be sure to make it down there early if you want to catch them doing it. There is hardly any ventilation so all the emitted smoke escapes into the room filling the whole place. They have a large selection of coffees in glass silos. The house blend is 100% South American arabica coffees. The place certainly has its charm with a lot of things to see. Standing at the bar and drinking espresso opens up a different espresso culture that is truly unforgettable.

This typical Italian espresso bar is an absolute must to visit for that cultural coffee experience, but don’t get your hopes up about the coffee.

Sant Eustachio Il Caffe, (Piazza Di S. Eustachio)

This espresso bar is mentioned in every coffee guide of the city for its outstanding secret recipe espresso. Sant Eustachio Il is one of the oldest cafes established in 1955 does something different that others don’t do. When you get your espresso the crema is extremely thick and you could stand your spoon in it. This had me guessing for a while what it actually is that they do to the espresso. It is impossible to see as the machines are shielded with screens. Well I worked it out and I am going to blow their secret out into the public.

As soon as the espresso comes out of the machine they add some lightly carbonated water and vigorously whisk it, as a result of that the crema becomes thick. You can try this at home to see the reaction of crema with carbonated water. I suggest to use lightly carbonated water like ferrarelle.
The taste of the espresso is changed also. Espresso itself becomes smoother as it is watered down but the overpowering taste of minerals is not pleasant at all.

I recommend going here and checking this place out. I forgot to mention that their coffee is roasted in a wood oven, don’t really know how they go about doing it as everything seems to be top secret in that place.

Illy Caffe, (Termini Station)

Inside the grand central station we came across a very small illy cafe that was pretty good. Extremely quick service, with a nice breakfast and lunch selection, made this espresso bar our morning pit-stop as we were staying close by. The familiar illy taste didn’t disappoint, smooth and sweet. To my surprise the espresso here tasted much better than many historical espresso bars around town, if you are in the area I suggest to go there, but otherwise its a very good example of standard illy espresso that might not be worth a trip if you are familiar with the taste already.

Caffe Greco, (Via Condotti, 86)

A very famous italian cafe for its inspiration to many poets and artists, its in a top notch location, right by the Spanish Steps so be careful not to sit down otherwise they will charge you 6 EUR for service. The bar is rather tacky with velvet walls and old grandma interior. I didn’t find it charming and the coffee wasn't good at all, pop in if you are in the area, espresso at the bar is 1 EUR.

Gran Caffe la Caffettiera‎, (Piazza di Pietra)

Old piston machines, was mentioned in few guides so we went there. Its more of a lunch cafe than an espresso bar. Really nothing special, not worth a trip.

Coffee for Italians is a lifestyle and a scheduled part of every day, so they don’t go out of their way in search of a good cup, the best is the cheapest and is simply around the corner, no matter who you ask. Espresso seems to be of a certain standard, not terrible and not amazing, something hovering in the middle. Every time I drank an espresso I’ve finished it, either with sugar or without, so it was very drinkable unlike many other European cities. To stumble across amazing coffee in rome is virtually impossible, but the cultural experience is unforgettable.