I have recently returned from a trip to London and realised how Italian food has been demeaned. This wonderful rich cuisine has been changed into an insipid fair offered by cheap restaurants. Anyone who has ever eaten a Pizza in Naples will know that those offered by the large chains abroad are not even bad imitations. It seems now that coffee is going the same way.
Coffee is Italy’s national drink, there are Italians who prefer a macchiato (an espresso with a touch of milk) or a macchiato in tazza grande (an espresso with more frothy milk than a macchiato but not a cappuccino) and who knows better how to produce the perfect espresso than those who invented it and every variation on the theme. However, despite our love for a cup of coffee, we Italians (I’m myself now an Italian national) are moderate consumers compared to northern Europeans being only in eleventh place. Topping the list are the Scandinavian countries with Sweden, Norway coming first. The biggest difference is however in how we drink coffee. In Italy coffee is used as a digestive or tonic, while in northern Europe it is also drunk as an accompaniment to meals. In the UK, America and northern Europe more coffee is drunk at a sitting but it isn’t so strong. All these types of coffee are not based on the espresso. The other typical characteristic of Italian coffee drinkers is their love of drinking in a bar. Going to the bar with friends to drink a perfect example of this exquisite liquid while standing in a crowd in front of the bar counter is an intrinsic part of Italian culture. Bars and coffee shops the world over try to copy this aura. The problem with the globalisation of a cup of coffee is how Italians defend the identity of an espresso, otherwise this epitome of Italian life will meet the same fate as the Pizza. I have already heard English children proclaiming that they have English pizza in Italy!
How many different types of coffee can you request at the bar? The answer is unlimited but there are certain basic rules that must be respected to produce a cup of espresso doc.
1. A minimum of 7 grams of coffee.
2. The water must hit 88 degrees (190 F) centigrade during the preparation.
3. The coffee must be 67 degrees (152 F) when served.
4. The small cup should always be white.
5. The consistency should be that of a thick dense cream. The correct viscosity can be tested when you add the sugar. The sugar should pause on the surface before slowing sinking into the dark liquid.
6. The taste should be both intense and amaro but not too much.
So please next time you are in an Italian bar take your time to savour a true espresso DOP and remember that so called Italian coffee chains abroad offer a different product and please can we remain free of these chains in favour of our family run bars.