When in Rome....

Photo courtesy of www.santeustachioilcaffe.it

Yes it is a silly phrase, but it is wonderful to say when you are in fact in Rome. And when in Rome, go check out Il Caffe Sant’Eustachio. So far, it is the home of the only real espresso I have had in my life. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have had my share of espresso, both the good and the bad. In fact, I think I became all the more fanatical about a good quality espresso after I began to relate it to the meaning of the musical term “con espressione.” Literally, it means “with expression”, but I like to look at the similarities in the spelling between “espresso” and “espressione”. A good portion of both words are virtually identical, giving us “espress”. OK, perhaps not that interesting….

However, when you begin to play a musical passage, particularly the music of Brahms which requires a rich and resonant sound from the horn player, while simultaneously thinking about the type of work that must happen to make a proper espresso, in which the intense flavour of the coffee beans are quickly pressed, and pushed, and heated into a glorious drinkable cup; then the music begins to transcend the notes at face value, and adds another layer of musical flavour, in which you press and pull out the sound of the notes in the same way the flavour of espresso is pushed and pulled out of the beans. So, as a musician, you can say that I think about espresso a lot; my work requires it and I guess I wouldn’t be doing the music justice otherwise. Oh darn!

You don’t like espresso? Are you sure? Do you think it is bitter strong coffee? If that is what your experience has been, fair enough. Try, try again. To me, espresso is more like the heart and soul of coffee. You almost smell it more than taste it. It should be rich and flavourful, and most certainly with the coveted crema on top. You can add a little sugar, but it shouldn’t be a necessity. Of course, a good espresso is the base for many other “coffee drinks”, but don’t let the espresso itself be elusive. It can, and should be a rewarding experience when you finally get one that is “right”. For great reads on espresso, check out "Explaining Espresso", by Jeffrey Steingarten's article for November 2000 Vogue Magazine, or a compilation of these essays at "It Must've Been Something I Ate". Genius, and hilarious at that.

So finally, I couldn’t have been more gleeful than to stand in front of Sant’Eustachio with so much excitement and anticipation. You can say that it was painful to wait even one more second to enjoy this espresso. I knew it had to be good, but I wasn’t really sure in which ways. It comes with sugar unless you ask for it not to, and most Italians I have met seem to do this as habit regardless. So I figured Sant’Eustachio is simply doing everyone a service, and went along with it. I have never seen anything like it. The spoon was literally floating, nearly unabashedly, effortlessly, on top of the crema. The crema itself was also nearly a centimeter thick, unbelievable. Yum. It was like a little bit of whipped coffee on top the richest espresso I have ever had. Ideally, you are to consume an espresso within 10 seconds of its production, and who am I to argue? But I’ll tell you, it was not bitter even one bit.

Sant'Eustachio, www.santeustachioilcaffe.it: Piazza Sant'Eustachio n. 82 (between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona), Roma, (39) 06.68802048

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