Italian Coffee Redux – Part 2

posted in: musings, Travel | 0

If you’re looking for Part 1 of this story, follow this link! So, now that we covered the home options (moka pot) for coffee in Italy (although, yes, you can purchase a regular drip machine and etc there, too), let’s explore bar/espresso culture.

I’ll break two bits of news to you right off the bat… if you’re a giant sugar-and-milk-in-a-to-g0-cup-*$ drinker you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I saw two places that offered to-go cups like they were ENORMOUSLY special and I saw exactly zero people going anywhere with coffee. Also, all the flavorings and options and frappé machines and etc are non-existant, thankfully. If you’re looking for hipster street-cred slow-bars that nano-roast their own beans and blah blah blah, you’re also shit out of luck. That may exist somewhere in Italy, but I didn’t see it and I expect the Italian government control over pricing as well as the business structure of coffee there keeps the artisanal thing to a minimum, if it even exists at all there. If you can’t charge $4 for a Chemex pour or $3 for an espresso then you are going to be hard pressed to make money being forced to charge €1 (about $1.29 as of this writing) for special coffee when the bar two storefronts down is charging the same thing for relatively low-quality beans from a giant distributor who also provides his expresso machine and other equipment. Anyway…

One thing Italy does have is incredible consistency. I had “pretty good” coffee across the board, with it being nearly identical everyplace I had it in Rome and Venice. The pricing is no surprise because the government controls it, and the business model is that a couple huge conglomerates pretty much source, roast and distribute all the beans while also providing the grinder and machine to each bar, restaurant, trattoria, osteria, etc that offers coffee (which is literally everyplace in Italy). Whereas in Kansas City I’d have to get in my car and drive 5 minutes to get to the closest place that has an espresso machine, and then take another 10 minute drive to get to the next closest one, in metro areas like Rome, Venice and even in the small towns, you can’t walk five feet without passing a place that has an espresso machine running morning, day or night. And the coffee is basically identical at every one of them. And EVERYONE who isn’t a kid is ponying up to the bar every morning and afternoon for a shot and a bit of a chat. Amazing!

Anyway, the number of choices available at the typical Italian bar is pretty impressive, but I didn’t go for the cold drinks, shakes and various other things most offer. Instead I stuck with the simple three: caffé (espresso), macchiato (espresso with a little bit of steamed milk and foam) and I had a couple cappuccini, which are small in Italy compared to the USA (think about 4.5-5 ounces, tops). Of course you can get a latté, a caffé Americano, caffé lungo (which I ordered once but couldn’t tell the difference from a regular espresso, so maybe they forgot what I ordered?).