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When I moved from Italy to England I immediately noticed that there are many cafes ready to delight with a wide range of options, single origins from across the world, served in a variety of styles; latte, mocca, cappuccino and even…..Espresso!
It’s true, you can step into any venue and choose among a wide range of different types of coffee. Cool, but they’re not all the same, in particular, not all Espressos are the same, neither the drink, nor the meaning – I promise.
Italy is considered by most people “the true home of coffee”. I can relate, I’ve been enjoying Italian coffee for years in my hometown of San Miniato. Literally, everywhere you go there is not a single place that doesn’t serve an espresso, even in the most remote corner of the smallest villages.
Whichever venue you step in, whether it’s a bar or a restaurant, the first thing you will see is a long counter with a huge coffee machine behind it and a smiling, joyful barista ready to delight you. It’s very likely that you will also find a bunch of people talking, playing cards or chatting with the barista, while having a cup.
Our Espresso is very different from the international version. The difference doesn’t just lie in the making, but also in the meaning it has for us in a broader sense: it’s way more than just a drink.
Unbelievably, to be considered a well made shot, there are some specific standards to meet.
First of all, the cream, you can recognise a very good coffee from its “crema”, which is the heart of Italian Espresso. It should be hazelnut-coloured, low and thick, never foamy, without bubbles and remain for at least 120 seconds from the time the coffee has been dispensed without stirring, the coffee below is not to be seen.
The taste and aftertaste are also important. The taste is given by four basic parameters: bitter, sour, salty or sweet, which of course are well mixed and balanced, without the prevalence of one over the other. The aftertaste has both floral and spicy tones, and it should last up to a few minutes after the last sip.
An Espresso has to be served in a precise type of cup, which is tiny, made by porcelain with a narrow bottom. The amount of coffee in it should stay between 13 and 26 grams and the temperature must be between 90 and 96 degrees Celsius. In Italy, it usually comes with a glass of water and a small chocolate.
For it to be “traditional”, the Espresso must be made by a trained barista using a bar’s coffee machine, using freshly ground coffee, brewed for exactly 20 to 27 seconds.
Every cup of Espresso has a story to tell, that’s because in Italy having a coffee is not just having a hot drink in a rush, it’s never like that.
“Let’s have a coffee!” is the most frequent invitation that you can hear throughout Italy. It has always been for us an opportunity to meet people, get to know someone and exchange; it aims precisely to create community.
You can easily find yourself in an Italian “bar” and see a work meeting going on at a table, in front of a couple of small cups. If you want to hang out with friends or with someone you’re getting to know, you usually go “for a coffee”.
In my hometown there is a small venue, whose owner is one of those middle-age women, who might seem gruff at first sight. I used to go there just for a cup of coffee every morning before going to school, and I used to go by myself. After a couple of times seeing me alone, she came to my table asking if everything was fine. She told me “you may come in the cafe by yourself, but you should never have an Espresso in silence, whatever the reason is”. Since that day, I used to have a chat with her every morning, as if she was one of my closest friends.
Another very popular habit is, as I mentioned before, going to the bar right after lunch to have a coffee while playing cards with friends. This happens especially among the elderly and you can’t even imagine what life stories come up during these games (and how large the audience gets).
Coffee wasn’t invented in Italy, but we have developed a deep seated culture around it. It’s simply part of who we are. We love bringing people “into our world” and, of course, making everyone enjoy a cup of well made Espresso.
Article written by Giorgia Bellini
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