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Getting the best from an Italian roast

16/6/2015
We spent some time doing a little tasting session with Scott Colfer, coffee blogger and friend of Caffe del Bar. We tasted: 

Caffe Milani St. Helena 100% Arabica, an extremely rare coffee that our partners at Milani roasted with exceptional care
Caffe Damosso Miscela Kaweh 100% Arabica, one of our best sellers – as a benchmark for classic Italian espresso. 
Caffe Botandi Oro 80% Arabica / 20% Robusta – one of our latest discoveries in Italy, possibly the oldest coffee roaster of Italy (1790) from Rovereto.

You can see in the photo above how the darker Italian roast differs visually from a lighter typical 3rd wave roast, and the difference in taste is just as clear!

All were prepared using a Gaggia Classic espresso machine. This is by no means a professional machine but representative of something a passionate home barista might have – t it would give us an idea of what these coffees would taste in a home environment (extracted by an enthusiast “home barista”). What we did was not particularly scientific or exhaustive or what a specialist would call a “cupping session”, but very enjoyable and enlightening. These are just a few things that we found and discussed.
Caffè Milani St. Helena 100% Arabica
This was a strong hit of an espresso to start with. An oily espresso with a very deep flavour. The crema was thin but strong and persistent.

This was an extremely challenging drink, and will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. However, and this was the surprise, with even the smallest amount of sugar, the entire flavour profile changed in a way that was a revelation. We may know a lot about coffee, but not about the chemistry of what happens in the cup, but this addition of sugar created flavours that delivered both a light acidity and a strong traditional Italian espresso. It was almost like two contrasting flavour profiles simultaneously. We thought that this small amount of sugar created an experience more typical of a third wave coffee, but with deeper foundations. This addition of sugar is typical of how the Italians would drink an espresso, and it is easy to see why.
Caffè Damosso Miscela Kaweh 100% Arabica
This is a very drinkable espresso, it has smooth texture and taste, strong in the ‘middle’, and creates a strong crema. We again found that a small amount of sugar (1/4 teaspoon) and dash of milk was the best way to enjoy this. The overall experience was very chocolaty, with nothing that was too overwhelming. 

We’d made this again with a cafetiere (French press), and a generous serving of milk, this is a very comforting experience with strong chocolate notes.

We could (and do) drink this every day very easily. We often recommend this to people new to Italian coffee as it is so accessible taste - from this coffee as a base it is easy to understand where someone might like to take their taste journey next.
Caffe Botandi Oro 80% Arabica / 20% Robusta
The most obvious thing when looking at the espresso, was that the crema was significantly deeper, stronger and more structural than the others. It clung to the side of the glass strongly, creating an even coating without collapsing back into the glass. The crema was about twice the thickness of the other coffees we tested and a great example of what a small amount of the Robusta bean can do for an espresso.

This has a strong caramel and vanilla flavour that is dark and spicy. Interestingly, as with the Caffè Milani St Helena, the flavours really come to life with the addition of even the smallest amount of sugar in a way that is really surprising. This is particularly true for the lighter flavours, that the sugar really activates.

What this short exploration has shown is that the Italian, darker roast bean is incredibly versatile compared to many lighter third wave roasts. If you’ve ever had the chance to compare them side by side, the colour of the Italian roasted beans are significantly darker, with marks of an oily sheen, whereas the third wave roast bean is light and dry - which starts giving you an idea of where the taste profile differences may come from. 

The versatility of the Italian roast might seem counter intuitive, but the addition of small varying amounts of sugar or milk vastly alters the flavour profile ‘lightening it up’ in different ways. These additions can change the result from a very traditional deep Italian espresso taste, to something lighter more akin to a third wave roast while still maintaining the depth and substance.

Continued exploration in this way helps us to understand, compare and appreciate all kinds of coffee, from the lightest of third wave, to the deepest of Italian roast.