Sorry for the lack of coffee reviews this week, everyone! I’ve been dealing with a broken molar that needs a new crown, so I haven’t been eating or drinking much. Should be back to relative normality next week! This is a great opportunity, then, to share an awesome new blog I discovered about the hunt for third wave coffee in Rome, Italy!
It’s not everyday that I come across a blog that stimulates me to write an article about it, but Coffeeinrome.com is exactly that. I recently stumbled across Sebastian’s Coffeeinrome site after noticing a comment he made on one of my Instagram pictures. My family moved to Rome, Italy when I was 12 and I lived there until I graduated high school in 1993 (forever ago!), so Rome is home away from home for me and I absolutely love the city. We were back for a visit in September 2014 and the coffee wasn’t as good as my memory made it out to be, but on the other hand having a 1 Euro espresso while looking out to a 500-year old piazza makes up for a lot of sins!
According to what little Sebastian put about himself on his blog, he seems to be a Californian who now lives in Rome and he has taken on the daunting task of finding “third wave” coffee in the Eternal City. Good luck, Sebastian! You have your work cut out for you! HIs blog has only been up for a few months and there is already a lot to read. Crazily, in a city of easily hundreds, if not thousands, of coffee bars, I have been to a handful of the places he has reviewed so far! Small world.
Sebastian takes a lot of photos and writes well and his enthusiasm for the hunt is contagious. This is a GREAT resource for anyone traveling to Rome, too. I wish this would’ve been around when we went last September, but at the same time there is something fun about walking the city with a pocket full of €1 coins and jumping into bar after bar and seeing what their espresso has to offer! You’ll burn off the caffeine with all the walking, trust me.
Italy has a very strange coffee culture in that espresso is a way of life and every restaurant has an espresso machine and you can’t walk a block without passing 2-3 coffee bars, yet the quality is not what you’d expect. In a city like Rome, you pretty much don’t even have to walk a block before you can find a small coffee bar. So, interestingly, the Italian coffee business is mostly dominated by a few big distributors who provide all these restaurants and bars (they aren’t our American-style, sit for a long time affairs) with average coffee and they often supply the grinders and espresso machines, too. Italian bars tend to pre-grind a whole hopper full of espresso and they crank out serious volume. It’s quick, it’s fast, it’s consistently so-so, and it’s a good excuse to indulge with some sugar in your shot!
Another interesting fact of coffee business in Italy is that the government controls the pricing. Assuming you are standing at the bar to drink your espresso, you’ll pay about 1 Euro for an espresso (about $1.12 US today). Currently the going price for a shot here in Kansas City is $3-$4, so €1 is a pretty damn good deal! I drank a lot of coffee in Italy last year and the range was 90 Euro cents (?) to about €1.20. If you sit, you pay for the table and etc so that’s a whole different cup of tea. Well, espresso. You know what I mean.
The downside to price controls is that it takes some of the motivation away from people who may otherwise be third-wavers. Are you really going to import a giant machine, pay for the space it occupies, import your own microlots, roast them, etc when you have to sell your product for the same amount that someone does who spent relatively little to offer the same beverage? It’s a tough market and, in my opinion, that’s part of the trouble of finding third wave coffee in Italy.
Also, love it or hate it, Italian coffee is darn consistent. It’s quite a feat that you can get an espresso at any restaurant or any of thousands of coffee bars across the entire nation and pretty much get the same thing every time. In a culture that thrives on tradition, getting away from that would be a big challenge!
For me, there is joy simply in the process of going into a typical Italian coffee bar, wriggling my way through the morning crowd and enjoying an espresso (un caffé is how you would order it) or a macchiato standing at the bar and soaking in the ambiance. Or taking it at a table and sitting and watching the piazza for a while with no one bothering you to move out for the next customers! I generally just toss some sugar in, something I never do here at home, and enjoy the whole experience.