Ordering a cup of coffee in a traditional Italian café at a busy time of day is a little daunting for a visitor.
Firstly, the place will be chaotic, full of jostling people knocking back espresso in one gulp. Receipts and coins fly everywhere, and at the centre of it all, there’s a gleaming espresso machine, run by a barista who moves like a dancer between the machine and his counter.
It may look like chaos, but there’s a system at the heart of it all, and the system works like clockwork.
The prospective coffee drinker goes to the cash till, places his or her order, pays for it and gets a receipt – the magic ticket. The receipt is then jostled through the crowd and placed on the counter for the barista to pick up. He makes the coffee and exchanges it for the receipt.
It’s all beautifully simple, and works because everybody knows exactly what they should do, and when. It’s decades of tradition and culture distilled down into a simple everyday transaction.
There’s little shortage of good coffee in Rome, but the best of the bunch is possibly Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffe, an eighty year old coffee shop near to Plaza Navona and the Pantheon. Sant’ Eustachio’s signature cup is the gran caffe, a larger espresso served very sweet.
The coffee is rich and thick, almost syrupy, and it smells earthy and robust. There’s a thick crema on top. It’s so far removed from the espresso on offer at the big American coffee chains we’re so used to as to be unimaginable.
For this, you pay 1.10 Euros for a single espresso as opposed to the 80 cents or so at most other places, but the beans are slow roasted over wood on the premises to an exact specification. The wood adds a distinct flavour and smokiness to the blend that’s definitely worth a few extra cents.
Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffe is one of the best, if not the best. And the worst? Try, or rather don’t try, Caffe Greco on Via de Condotti – cold coffee, overpriced. We sat down which immediately sends the price rocketing, and admittedly, it’s on the same road as Prada, but five Euros for a tepid espresso and seven for a cappuccino?
Caffe Greco is famous for being frequented by luminaries such as Keats, Byron and Casanova over the years. History does not record what Casanova made of the espresso.
Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffe
Piazza Sant’ Eustachio 82