Italians don’t know they are drinking such bad coffee

Want to talk espresso but not sure which forum? If so, this is the right one.
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drgary
Team HB

Postby drgary » Jan 03, 2019, 10:28 am

Today's Washington Post features an article on Italian cafe culture and attempts to bring it out of the time capsule.

Chico Harla wrote:When I walked into Labb Caffettin for the first time two months ago, a barista sporting an apron and a thick beard took my order, served my drink and talked a little about how the store was trying to introduce specialty coffee — call it artisanal, craft, pretentious or delicious — to a country that all but created the caffeinated life.

"The Italians don't know they are drinking such bad coffee," Matteo Campeotto said, lowering his voice in recognition that he was treading on sacred ground.

As a relative newcomer to Italy, I wasn't ready to proclaim that the country that invented and perfected the espresso machine has been doing it all wrong. But already I'd been wondering why the modern coffee era, with its new brewing techniques and specialty beans, seemed to have largely passed Italy by.

(cont'd)
Gary
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What I WOULD do for a good cup of coffee!

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IamOiman

Postby IamOiman » Jan 03, 2019, 11:34 am

I'll comment on some of the stuff said in the article based on my experiences in Italy as a foreigner.

They tend to offer pastries in the morning — sometimes homemade, often not — and stock alcohol for the 5 p.m. crowd.

This is accurate for most bars I've been to. The time of day that they introduce/no longer serve can vary though. Some bars also focus more on pastries and have coffee/espresso as a second thought. This usually means the espresso is not as good as other locations if the equipment is not maintained or cleaned.

They never offer coffee for takeaway.

This may be true for the north, but in Campania region and south you can order takeaway in the form of a large plastic cup covered in tin foil for the top that has 3-6 shots of espresso that you pour into smaller cups given to you.

For decades, for everyone from bureaucrats to factory workers, coffee has been the best excuse to take a quick pause (or three) in the day. The commodity is as much the coffee as the time at the bar.

I agree breaks will still occur even if coffee is not the 'excuse.'

Italian coffee tends to rely on blends that includes the cheaper Robusta beans, noted for their bitterness and lack of acidity, and common in instant coffee.

I say this is more true to the south. Northern brands like Illy have been introducing more arabica focused roasts and I have seen quite a few single origin roasts while I studied in Venice. I say there is merit to the Robusta bean, and the flavors it can provide. However the method/time of roasting will affect this flavor profile. Brands like Folgers has also given a bad rep for old and often over roasted robusta beans. For me personally I settled on a small local company named Saka that produces my favorite blends of Italian coffee that blends 70% arabica with 30% robusta.
Italy's version of the cold summer drink is the shakerato, an espresso shot shaken with ice. But it's face-puckeringly bitter

There is a sweet version of this called Caffè del Nonno. Just add some sugar!

And the final and most accurate note of the article (ESPECIALLY in the south)
It's not a written law, but it's written in people's minds," the barista said about the expected low cost. "A shop near us sells underwear for 90 euros. That is okay. But a coffee for more than 1 euro, never!

Let's just say I balk at paying anything more than 1.20 euro for an espresso and will almost always decline buying espresso in the states or outside Italy while I travel. In terms of trying to change the time capsule I think Italy should keep the cheap affordable pricing for espresso, but also offer more nuanced or specialty options for those who like the third wave culture. The new Starbucks in Milan has done this pretty well imo!
-Ryan
I'll throw my portafilter in the ring
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civ

Postby civ » Jan 03, 2019, 11:43 am

Hello:
Italians don't know they are drinking such bad coffee

Hmmm ...
I beg to differ.

I'd say that Italians don't know they are drinking what Matteo Campeotto has somehow come to believe is bad coffee.
As for me, I have not tasted it but I think I probably won't like what he serves as good coffee.

I mean, if I want blueberries (or whatever comes with light roasted beans) in my espresso, I'll have it with a slice of US style blueberry pie.

... they serve up espresso shots that are bitter and strong. They seldom have WiFi. They do not welcome laptop workers. They never offer coffee for takeaway.

Espresso is an intrinsic part of Italian culture and not only because of the coffee served.
To reduce it to that is intellectually careless, to say the least.

Italian coffee culture is so ingrained that even Starbucks hasn't made many inroads, only opening its first store in September ...

Thank the gods for that!

Hopefully it will be the first and only one.
In my opinion, Starbucks is a cancer.

Where I live (Buenos Aires, Argentina) we also have quite a few Starbucks serving their swill and as it always happens (see McD, BK, Wendy's, Subway, Dunkin's, Pizza Hut, KFC, etc.) novelty will always attract local public - till it wears off.

Patrons who appreciate a half decent cup of espresso will not go to a Starbucks.

Cheers,

CIV

Satch12879

Postby Satch12879 » Jan 03, 2019, 12:47 pm

civ wrote:Hello:

Hmmm ...
I beg to differ.

I'd say that Italians don't know they are drinking what Matteo Campeotto has somehow come to believe is bad coffee.
As for me, I have not tasted it but I think I probably won't like what he serves as good coffee.

I mean, if I want blueberries (or whatever comes with light roasted beans) in my espresso, I'll have it with a slice of US style blueberry pie.


Espresso is an intrinsic part of Italian culture and not only because of the coffee served.
To reduce it to that is intellectually careless, to say the least.


Thank the gods for that!

Hopefully it will be the first and only one.
In my opinion, Starbucks is a cancer.

Where I live (Buenos Aires, Argentina) we also have quite a few Starbucks serving their swill and as it always happens (see McD, BK, Wendy's, Subway, Dunkin's, Pizza Hut, KFC, etc.) novelty will always attract local public - till it wears off.

Patrons who appreciate a half decent cup of espresso will not go to a Starbucks.

Cheers,

CIV


This.

My first cup of "real" espresso was Hair Bender at the now-defunct Prime Meats in Brooklyn back in 2009. After drinking garbage for most of my life, this was a revelation. My opinion, however, was, "ah, just like Italy." Since then, I've tasted or brewed dozens of boutique coffees. It's getting absolutely ridiculous. The older I get, the more and more I yearn for those bar-brewed coffees from Italy, cheap beans and all. The thimble-sized portion, the mouthfeel, the coffee taste, the little bit of sugar, the whole deal. The Italians figured it out decades ago. Yes, you can get something right and not have to change or improve it. This whole torpedoing Italian coffee and really Italian culture is not going to end well.

mathof

Postby mathof » Jan 03, 2019, 12:55 pm

Italian espresso, in my experience, is indeed priced at €0.90 to €1.10 for customers standing at the bar. (Table service can be considerably more.) However, this is for singles, made with 7g of coffee. Doubles cost exactly twice that (~$2.28), and they are made with 14g of coffee, which is 2g-4g less than used in American singles. When you look at it this way, the prices are not so out of line.

lagoon

Postby lagoon » Jan 03, 2019, 5:16 pm

For a long time in Italy, the price of a coffee taken standing at the bar was price fixed either by regulation or local convention depending on the region.

Not only does this provide little incentive for a bar to improve its coffee offering, but to the contrary it created a race to the bottom to use the cheapest possible beans.

You would then hope to sell a few pastries in the morning rush, and charge extortionate prices to tourists who would take a seat and order table service!

Interesting that the Italian guy in the article had his "aha moment" in Melbourne. It's fairly well known that the Australian espresso scene was created by post war migrants from Europe, particularly Italians in the 50's and 60's.

However from that common beginning, two different paths were taken.

The Australian market has always been unregulated, charge whatever you want for coffee, so cafes had a reason to experiment, to develop and improve their offering. Certainly coffee is more expensive in Australia than the Italian "standing at the bar", but on average it is significantly better.

Interesting article, thanks for sharing.

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shawndo

Postby shawndo » Jan 03, 2019, 5:27 pm

I loved the comparison to the NYC hot dog. That pretty much sums up the whole article in one sentence.

Dale Harris, a Brit who won the 2017 World Barista Championship, compared Italian espresso to a hot dog in New York City. "It's super cheap. It's super authentic. No, it's not objectively good,"
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra

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slipchuck

Postby slipchuck » Jan 04, 2019, 10:27 am

mathof wrote:Italian espresso, in my experience, is indeed priced at €0.90 to €1.10 for customers standing at the bar. (Table service can be considerably more.) However, this is for singles, made with 7g of coffee. Doubles cost exactly twice that (~$2.28), and they are made with 14g of coffee, which is 2g-4g less than used in American singles. When you look at it this way, the prices are not so out of line.

I was paying as little as $0.60 euros for a double in Portugal. I found it pretty cool how people would drop in and stand at the bar for an espresso...similar to how north American people have a few alcoholic beverages.


Randy
“There is nobody you can’t learn to like once you’ve heard their story.”

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redbone

Postby redbone » Jan 04, 2019, 11:06 am

slipchuck wrote:I was paying as little as $0.60 euros for a double in Portugal. I found it pretty cool how people would drop in and stand at the bar for an espresso...similar to how north American people have a few alcoholic beverages.

Randy


Had many a great "bica" in Portugal. Pair that up with a Pastel de nata and one is in momentary bliss for a while.

Last summer in Sicily I found the ristretto type medium dark espressos worked well with a dessert or with a little sugar adding a caramelization to the last sip. On their own maybe not but I didn't see anyone drink these without a little sugar or at least a dessert.
Between order and chaos there is espresso.
Semper discens.


Rob
LMWDP #549

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stefano65
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Postby stefano65 » Jan 04, 2019, 11:27 am

As per my last trip in italy just a couple of months ago, and this time only three different locations,
I can say that finding good espresso is getting harder and harder, (and I go back often since 1991 when I moved here)
now in Milano the new rage is this chain of Caffe' stile Napoletano, with levers machine, that one was good you just have to remember to tell them no sugar
since they will automatically put it in the cup just like in Napoli,
otherwise blahhh,
I have to capitulate to the fact that some of the capsule machines do a decent job on the result compared to same in bars/cafes.
Very very sad

Hello Gary hope all is well with you and Janet

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