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The Truth about the Coffee.

The Truth about the Coffee.
02 October 2016 0 Comment

Yes, I know I’m supposed to wax lyrical about the culture and traditions of this favorite pastime. It’s the best way to while the time away, particularly when you are on holiday. To savor the aroma and to let that first mouthful dance over your tongue, enjoying the flavor, before letting it slide down. I even read an article on the stuff recently, which by way of a beginning described coffee as, “fiery as hell and as black as the devil, yet at the same time like an angel, and sweet like love. This is how coffee must be”. The romantic in me would agree and I would add it is a glorious, delicious, and wondrous, must have before anything else in the morning drink. And I’m addicted to the stuff and have been for years. But it must be good, it must be strong, and without a doubt, it must be Italian.

So our quest for the coffee to die for must and does take us to Rome. For the sake of this story, let’s just accept the fact that between them, Rome and Naples make the best coffee in all its forms. Perfect Traveller discovered that these two cities often import the poorer, less expensive quality coffee bean. Then they turn this cheap coffee bean into a magical offering and the secret of how the best producers in these two cities create the wonderful flavor we enjoy is by the lengthy roasting processes, which vary from establishment to establishment. The recipes are family secrets, and passed down from generation to generation. It’s comforting to know, as you peer down into the creamy, frothy whirl of your first cappuccino for the day, the dedication and fiercely guarded traditions that have gone into making it.

There’s nothing plastic here, and a passing fad it is not. This is serious art. As important and as miraculous as Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. Don’t believe those glossy mags that are raving about the new generation of coffee house or chic cafes to been seen in. London does not produce good coffee, and to pay their asking price for pale imitations is like me being tempted to spend money on plaster copies of ‘David’ – never! New York abuses the privilege by consuming a black something by the gallon, and the French make excellent cheeses. No, to drink good coffee is best done alone, without garish fanfare announcing where and what cafe is in and preferably in the morning, with just a touch of religious solemnity to the occasion.

Like the meaning of life, the origin of the wheel, or why you are fascinated by the Perfect Traveller audio-tours, the history of coffee is not completely clear. Legend says that shepherds watched goats eat coffee plants, and noticed that the animals became quite excitable afterwards. So the shepherds too tried the plant and found they felt intellectually stimulated and happy and went home to their wives and . . . . Sorry I digressed! The plant originated in Ethiopia, but was later exported to many Arabian countries, as well as Italy, Greece and Turkey. It was then taken to South America where it was developed extensively. Today, Brazil alone exports 50% of the world’s total coffee production. And Perfect Traveller would like to publicly announce that caffeine is not as harmful as was believed. Whew! Two cups a day for a healthy person is harmless, while 5/6 cups or more is dangerous.

In Italy, the history of coffee begins in Venice where, in the 17th century, Venetian merchants imported coffee and began its distribution throughout Europe. At the same time, bar-like coffeehouses began to appear, and the ritual of coffee drinking spread. Today, and contrary to what most people think, the caffeine content in Italian coffee is less potent than that in American style coffee. The Romans and Neapolitans roast their inferior quality beans on average for half an hour (to generate the excellent flavor), destroying much of the caffeine; while in England and North America, the beans are only roasted for about six minutes, retaining a much higher level of caffeine. Despite being a national drink in Italy, and on a cultural and spiritual par as Pavarotti, fast cars, and drop dead beautiful, blonde, mini skirted, female sports presenters, the biggest coffee consumers are not the Italians?

In northern Europe the per capita consumption is highest, starting with Scandinavia and gradually decreasing as you go south through Belgium, France, Germany and into Italy and Spain. Rome has several marvelous ‘bars’ to stand in to have your cup of java. Of course by sitting down, particularly as a tourist, you immediately earn the distinction of paying twice; sometimes three times the price of an espresso, which on average now sells for about 80 euro cents taken at the bar. Just try sitting at any of the street tables on the tragically tired Via Veneto and have a coffee to prove my point. The 17th century Cafe Greco in Via Condotti, serves an excellent coffee at the average price standing at its bustling bar, but take the same coffee sitting in the salon at the rear, and you can almost hear the ghost of Keats coughing with malicious delight at the outrageous price being charged.

You have to look no further than Cafe Tazza d’Oro in Via degli Orfani, near the Pantheon for one of Rome’s best coffees, along with an exceptional coffee granita. The place exudes coffee aroma, and is always busy with Italians flying in and out. The art and mystery of coffee making is here for all to enjoy. For a long time Caffe S. Eustachio in Piazza di Eustachio was considered the best in town. But its own popularity has encouraged the standard to slip, and while the coffee is still good, it isn’t a working bar anymore. More of a tourist destination, filled with political types from the nearby Senate of Italy which gives the place a sterile feel without the hum of neighborhood chatter.

This story is a tribute to all those unsung, wonderful barmen in Rome who dedicate their lives to helping us start another day with a great coffee! You know the good ones because their verbal banter is relentless and is always polite and entertaining. Their eyes and I swear they have a set in the back of their head, never miss a person. Their ears never miss an order, which is usually yelled from a group of several people, newspapers in hand wanting their first coffee for the day. Whether it’s a cappuccino, a caffe lungo, a macchiato or a caffe corretto in the winter months with a drop of whisky, they never miss a beat. Their coffee is my joy. It encourages me to believe that all is well in the world. Their character and manner is a delight in this city, where often you get shortchanged with both.

I know of such places; do you? If so I invite you to share your favourite cafes with us by submitting your story to us to be published here on the Perfect Traveller website (by clicking the sign up button on the top right hand corner of the home page of the website) while I go and enjoy a coffee right now.

Peter Kilby
About the Author

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who has lived and worked in Italy since 1987. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of art and history closer to you. Download the “free” Perfect Traveller app and enjoy the best audio tours available; about Italy today and yesterday. Sign Up to this website and submit your travel stories and become part of the Perfect Traveller community.

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