This post might seem a tad trite, but after living in Italy for the past 2 months I believe it is time to talk about good coffee.
A little group of us from the school were traveling to Rome for a Baroque Tour, led by our trusty (and lovely) Art Historian Danielle. We were going to be visiting eight churches, the Pantheon, an important statue (The Pasquino statue) and Palazzo Barberini ( to see the breathtaking ceiling, and some important Caravaggio paintings), in a record 5 hours. This would also include lunch, (which I will write about soon).
Our itinerary for the day was planned down to when we would get a bathroom break, but, part of the schedule included an apparently all important stop at the best coffee place in the world (yes, I said, the world). At least that’s what Mario told me. And, why shouldn’t I believe him? He is currently writing a book on Rome (Strolling through Rome; The Definitive Walking Guide to the Eternal City), so his opinion was golden as far as I was concerned.
I must admit before I left for Italy, I loved coffee, but after trying coffee in countless places I have come to the realization that only Italians can make a good cup of espresso. I have been drinking mediocre coffee for the whole of my adult life (I never drank coffee growing up in Ireland; only black tea with milk), and only realized this a few months ago.
That realization didn’t come to me when I stepped off the plane in Rome and got a cup of coffee to get me through the gruelling wait at the airport for a lift to the hotel. I had to be educated about this crazy coffee culture. Italians take food and drink so very seriously, and I love them for that. There are specific methods and ingredients for everything, and digressing from tradition is not very well tolerated.
I was so unaware that this obsession with all things gastronomic extended into every single establishment a cup of coffee is served. I found out that the person who makes your humble cup of coffee is a professional with a specifically honed craft. It is not the busboy or an idle waiter. The barista who brews your cup of espresso is trained to make that 1 oz of liquid you drink, an ultra satisfying and pleasurable experience. And Italians wouldn’t have it any other way. The standard is high because it is demanded.
Why is the coffee so good? There are so many considerations, and if one of these things is off, the coffee falls short of the required perfection in every cup. The water, and the temperature of that water is an important factor. It has to be heated to between 194 and 203 degrees fahrenheit, before being forced at 135 pounds of pressure per cubic inch through a quarter ounce of precisely ground coffee for about 30 seconds. For this action to happen smoothly, the espresso machine has to be well maintained and the gentleman (or woman) manning the handle of said machine, has to know what he is doing.
Is all of this really important? We are talking about a minuscule amount of correctly warmed liquid, served in a not much bigger, perfectly warmed white ceramic cup. My answer is a resounding “yes,” and my theory goes something like this; If everyone in this world took this much care in every single thing they did on a daily basis, we would have a better quality of life. It is quality we are talking about, and this word quality represents the degree of excellence of a thing. A thing of excellence is a mighty thing indeed, and when we bandy about this word quality of life, are we talking about some sort of enlightened living, or the pleasure of drinking a cup of coffee made with care and attention. I think the coffee and the “enlightened thing” are pretty similar.
I know when I was dragged to the place touted to serve the best cup of coffee in Rome, I became instantly enlightened and happy when the froth on my spoon grazed my tongue!
I will lump in with everyone else, and say out loud that my caffe macchiato achieved a high degree of excellence, and in doing so, that little ounce of coffee improved the quality of my life.
Mario and Danielle, both gave me that look of satisfaction when one discovers how right they are! Danielle related a story to me, how when, newly in Rome years ago, her friends asked if she would like to go for coffee after dinner. She thought they just meant nip to the nearest bar (and there is one at every turn in Rome), have a coffee, and then off to bed. Not so, they kept walking and walking, passing at least twenty perfectly good establishments, until they reached Sant’Eustachio Cafe. Now here she was, standing with me, drinking coffee, and relishing the fact that she was the one who introduced me to yet another excellent cup of coffee.