WHAT’S “ITALIAN COFFEE”?
Italy is the birthplace of espresso. Being so, espresso is obviously the most popular coffee drink in the peninsula. Italians consume it mostly as their energy boost to kick off with their day, or rather as a hot digestif to finish their meals with.
Italy (Lavazza, most likely) is also responsible for the concept of coffee blending: an ensemble of different types of coffee beans, selected with care and attention, to create a “perfectly balanced” Espresso – a #Vigorous coffee at its finest.
Robusta coffee is very common in Italian coffee blends, which are always roasted so dark that oils appear on the surface of the beans.
OLD SCHOOL. TOO OLD SCHOOL?
As I mentioned, some people are blindly obsessed with this coffee culture, but this obsession is slowly collapsing – Italian coffee is not as precious as it used to be, especially among third-wave coffee professionals, who have been realizing it over the last decade or so.
This culture is in a way contradicting the “specialty coffee” approach, which is a movement that believes in opposite values: single-origin beans (vs. blends), Arabica coffee (vs. Robusta), and much lighter roasts (vs. dark roasts).
The specialty coffee niche is aiming to highlight the genuine flavors of the coffee beans, with an emphasis on terroir and the understanding that coffee is a fruit; dark-roasted beans will never be able to showcase those fruity, tropical, sparkling notes, like those you’d find in #Cheerful and #Adventurous coffees.
Don’t get me wrong – coffee preferences are the most personal thing one can imagine. Even if I have a very solid opinion on certain coffees and how they should be prepared, it doesn’t really matter, because, at the end of the day, the taste is completely subjective.
Coffee is associated with so many situations, experiences, memories, cultures, and countries. It is impossible to have a uniform, standardized “taste in coffee”.
SO, WHAT’S MY POINT OF VIEW?
My private journey with Italian coffee is actually quite interesting.
I moved to Italy four years ago, to study at the University of Gastronomic Sciences, in Piedmont. Coming from Israel, with its relatively poor coffee culture, I was almost mind-blown by the ritualism and seriousness Italians have with their black beverage; everyone drinks coffee, everyone has a Moka pot in their houses, and in cities like Turin, you’d come across a café’ or a roastery literally everywhere.
So immediately I realized “OK, this country doesn’t play around with coffee – here it’s a meaningful delight”.
However, thanks to my unique university life, I dug deeper and deeper into the marvelous world of coffee – as agricultural produce, a delicate product, and a super complex raw material. And honestly what I gradually understood is that Italians, in many cases, actually hide the true beauties of this magical beverage.
Italian coffee culture has many faces and principles. Many would claim that Espresso is the main one, while others would talk about the roasting level. I go with the second group – a classic Italian coffee’s trademark is a very dark roast.
So dark that it tastes and smells almost burnt, that its surface is oily and that there’s no reminiscence of the original fruit – to me, this means going away as far as possible from the “real” flavors of the coffee bean. For others, it’s what they’ve been drinking their wholes lives, and they love it.
If we’re trying to break down the reasons for that dark roast in a traditional Italian coffee, I believe there are a few. The first one that comes to my mind, is the relationship of dark roasted beans to Espresso extraction.
It is much easier to achieve a perfectly extracted Espresso, with a thick crema, when the beans are more developed and darker. The second reason is the poor quality of the raw material.
Robusta is very popular in Italy, and as we know, in 99% of the cases, it is inferior to Arabica. Because this species is so used in Italian blends, a developed roasting level is an instrument to somehow “hide” the poor qualities of it; the customer won’t taste the actual flavors of the coffee bean and origin, but rather the bitterness and caramelization of the roast.
Although nowadays there is a much better understanding of coffee, people around the world still might consider Italian coffee as “the real coffee” – intense, full-bodied, bitter, “strong”, just because they’re used to it and because Italian coffee has been marketed this way since many years now.
It is true that a classic Italian espresso would satisfy the #Vigorous and #Fascinating fans – it’s flirting around that fine line between sweetness and bitterness – and people are have just learned to love it.
However, don’t be surprised if, in 10 or 20 years from now, Italian coffee would be perceived significantly different.