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Mad about espresso

9/6/2015

Why even Italy’s modest cafés serve better espresso than anywhere else?


Our philosophy is that if you want to be sure you’re using the best coffee beans from Italy, you should choose those used by the best bars of Italy. We do just that - explore the top cafés of Italy, test their coffees and bring the best of them to you via our online shop.
 
But why, we’re asked, do we believe that the top bars of Italy are where the absolute best Italian coffees are to be found? Our answer is: undoubtedly because they invest more time and effort in researching and selecting their coffee, and in making sure they pull the best espresso, than cafés anywhere else.
The best bars in Italy will do whatever it takes to find the best coffee available and, among the over 700 roasters in Italy, they will spend months finding and testing the absolute best. Once they select their ideal coffee, they will equip themselves in the best way, and pay attention to every single detail in order to extract a perfect espresso.

Where does this attention to espresso quality come from? From the Italian public’s national obsession with great espresso. Italians are totally unforgiving when it comes to coffee quality at the bar, to the point that no bar in Italy, small or large, in the city, country side or along the „autostrade“, can survive without meeting the standards of this very demanding clientele.
 
We realize that it’s actually difficult to imagine the amount of effort the best bars in Italy put into espresso quality. But this article helps you get the idea.
To illustrate this, we’re starting at the opposite end of the bar or café spectrum. We’d like to show you how even modest, unassuming bars in Italy, that you probably wouldn’t even look at, take extraordinary steps to serve the best espresso they possibly can.
 
What’s even more amazing is that it’s not difficult to find such examples. These are things we encounter every time and everywhere in Italy. Most of the examples that we’re about to present here we’ve found completely at random, during just 3 consecutive days spent on the sunny coast of Maremma, in the South-West tip of Tuscany.
 

1. Espresso by the beach


Along a narrow, winding road along the coast of Monte Argentario, we stopped very casually for an espresso on a sleepy and rainy afternoon. The place where we chose to stop was placed on a small beach by this road from Porto Santo Stefano towards Porto Ercole. The view of the sea from this little cozy spot was beautiful so we didn’t really care about the bar much. We knew the espresso was going to be just fine, but were in for a special treat.
In front of the Al Pozzarello's modest – kitschy – not very fancy looking entrance, almost bursting with the common restaurant advertising fixtures that you see across Italy we saw a sign that to us was a little intriguing. The sign advertised the house coffee – in this case Hausbrandt. This is a well respected espresso coffee brand of Italy but rarely seen outside its „homeland“ in the regions of Trieste and Veneto. So we’ve ordered our espresso and out of curiosity asked the barista about this seemingly unusual choice of coffee brand. 
The extremely serious answer left us in complete amazement; „We’re here right on the beach and have high humidity and salt levels in the air, and they have a negative influence on the quality of our espresso. What’s worse, both are fluctuating from one day to another. We not only found it difficult to extract a perfect espresso, but the taste would change every day. You just can’t run a bar like that. We had to test several coffee beans, from many roasters, in order to find an espresso blend that was stable and consistent under our conditions. Only at Hausbrandt did we find the ideal blend. In addition, Hausbrandt were able to help us find the right settings for the water filter system because the water’s ph here isn’t very friendly.“
 
You would expect this highly scientific research speech from a sophisticated coffee nerd managing a top contemporary café in Seattle, London or Tokyo. But a normal guy running a nondescript pizzeria – bar – trattoria in a small city in Italy? It is just incredible.


2. Espresso at sea


This story came to us at Porto Santo Stefano. We embarked on a short ferry crossing to the picturesque Island of Giglio, just one from the coast. It’s the island that only rose to fame recently because of the tragic Costa Concordia disaster a few years ago.
 
Our curiosity about coffee in Italy never rests, so only 5 minutes into the ferry trip we were at the bar counter, with pretty low expectations. We were surprised to find a proper, professional grade, 3 head espresso machine – as in a good Italian bar on land - rather than an automatic machine or worse, an instant vending machine. 
The espresso, served in a tiny, simple, white plastic glass had a perfect crema and its taste would be envied by much fancier places abroad. The ferry used an espresso blend from Caffè Pedaccini, a traditional, local coffee brand from the nearby city of Grossetto, which we believe is a considered choice.


3. Espresso in nature


Marina di Alberese is a wonderful, pristine beach protected by a large pine tree forest (a „Pineta“) at the end of the Maremma Nature Reserve.
Caring for the thirst and hunger of the beach crowd is Ristorante Viola – a caravan on wheels really, the kind that sells food at street markets and fairs in Britain or Germany.
Only that, being in Italy and in a nature reserve, this one had an „eco-gourmet“ slant to its menu. There was nothing fancy about it as they were there just to feed the beach goers so we thought they wouldn’t pay much attention to coffee. We ordered an espresso nevertheless: „un caffè per favore!“.
It came – and a proper espresso it was – although, explained by the limitations of the space, it came from a coffee pad machine, in a small paper cup. What surprised us when we took a closer look was that they were using Caffè Ghigo. This is a well-respected coffee brand from North Italy, that we had tried previously in our journeys at the very glitzy Pasticceria Viscontea in Milan. They didn’t go for a cheap coffee but one that normally is used by a rather posh clientele. 

Another surprise came when we heard why they chose the brand. It turns out it’s not just the coffee quality itself, but Ghigo could provide coffee pads whose packaging is biodegradable, which the owners of the small restaurant thought important in order to respect the spirit of the nature reserve.
 

4. Espresso in a village


What looks like a suburban trattoria with little concern for architecture or ambiance, offered us a delightful sight when we approached the bar for an espresso.
Glowing behind the bar counter in the not very well lit restaurant was a shiny, immaculately clean, gracious Faema espresso machine which is a re-issue of their famous classic model from the 60s & 70s. We have seen the same machines at some of the best bars in Milan or Como. However, this time we were in an isolated and rural restaurant, where the espresso machine was probably one of the most expensive objects they possess.

What we’ve been trying to say is simple. Even modest bars and cafés in Italy pay an extreme level of attention to espresso quality. If this feels extreme, just imagine the efforts that the better bars of Italy, such as the ones featured on Caffedelbar.com, take for coffee quality.
 
This is why we strongly believe that if one wants the best gourmet coffees of Italy, one needs to get a coffee that’s used by Italy’s best bars.
You too may find such examples of obsession for espresso quality if you just have a chat with your barista in a small bar at the street corner in Italy where the barista is often the cafe owner.
If you do have such stories, we’d be delighted to share and publish them. Send them to info@caffedelbar.com.
 
Thank you for reading,
Your Caffè del Bar team
 
Acknowldedgements:
 
Trattoria Al Pozzarello, Porto Santo Stefano: www.alpozzarello.com
Ristoro La Viola, Marina di Alberese:  www.facebook.com/pages/La-Viola-Ristoro/107236209317475
Maregiglio ferries and mini-cruises, Porto Santo Stefano: http://www.maregiglio.it/ita/le-rotte.htm
Ristorante Camporosso, Colà (Verona): www.facebook.com/pages/Ristorante-Pizzeria-Camporosso/602609183135802