When in Rome…

A typical espresso in a typical Italian espresso bar, Dami Bistro, near the Spanish Steps.I’ve just returned from 10 days in Rome, five for work, followed by five days of sight-seeing. It’s a city that I adore, but I must confess that I approached the trip with more than a little trepidation, looking forward to the sight-seeing far more than I was the coffee. I last went to Rome almost 10 years ago, long before the Coffee Spot, back when I thought that Italian espresso (and Italian espresso culture) was the pinnacle of coffee. It’s also the city, where, almost 20 years ago, I first gained my love for espresso.

Since then, many things have changed, including my taste in coffee and my opinions of it. I feared that I wouldn’t enjoy the coffee, which in turn might spoil my memories of Rome. Coffee in Rome, and Italian coffee more widely, divides opinion. There are those who dismiss it, saying that Italy has not moved on, that the coffee is rubbish, while at the other end of the spectrum, there are plenty who still hold Italian espresso as the pinnacle of coffee culture.

As is often the case, the truth lies somewhere between these two extremes.

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Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffè

An amazing mural on the wall behind the counter at Sant' Eustachio Il Caffè in Rome.When I first came to Rome almost 20 years ago, there were two venerable espresso bars in the centre that came to my attention: Tazza D’Oro, and, on the other side of the Pantheon, today’s Coffee Spot, Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffè. Located on the Piazza Di Sant’Eustachio, it actually predates Tazza D’Oro by six years, having first opened in 1938 and, like Tazza D’Oro, it’s a classic Italian espresso bar, although it also has outdoor seating.

Unless you’re sitting outside (where you’ll pay an extra €2.50 for the privilege), you first need to queue up at the till, pay for your espresso, then take the receipt to the counter. This is where you’ll find the main difference, the espresso itself, which, by default is served infused with sugar and, I’ve been told, is Neapolitan style. It’s certainly very different from the other espressos I had during my time in Rome.

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Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria

A single espresso in a classic cup at Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria in Rome.I’m pretty good at picking hotels that are close to excellent coffee. On my recent trip to Montréal, my hotel  was chosen for its proximity to Paquebot Mont-Royal, while my hotel in Tokyo was close to multiple great coffee shops, including Lattest and Stockholm Roast. However, when it came to Rome, the only criteria was how close it was the various historical sights. The fact that it was under 10 minutes from the best coffee in the city turned out to be entirely coincidental.

Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria is part of a small group which includes a restaurant/deli, bakery, and this, a coffee shop and patisserie, which also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, plus wine and cocktails, in a small room at the back. I suspect that for most, the sumptuous cakes, pastries and tarts are the main draw, but it also happens that the coffee, from Laboratorio Di Torrefazione Giamaica Caffè in Verona, is the best I’ve had on this trip. There are two blends and a single-origin on espresso, plus multiple single-origins on pour-over.

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The Tram Depot

The Tram Depot logo from the side of the kiosk in Rome.When looking for speciality coffee in Rome, it pays to get a little off beaten track. Although you can find good quality traditional espresso bars like Tazza D’Oro and the occasional gem such as Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria in the centre, there’s also great coffee to found elsewhere. Today’s Coffee Spot, the Tram Depot, is south of the historic centre, beyond the Palatine Hill and Circo Massimo, on the far side of the Aventine Hill.

The Tram Depot consists of a small kiosk where you can take your coffee at the counter, with a spacious outdoor seating area if you want to linger. During the day, the focus is very much on the coffee, from Le Piantagioni del Caffè, a roaster I had not heard of before, hailing from the Tuscan coast. There’s a single-origin on espresso and three more on pour-over through V60, Syphon and cafetiere, while there’s also loose-leaf tea.

In the evening, the Tram Depot switches to a bar, staying open until 1am each night, serving wine, spirits and cocktails, although you can also get espresso-based drinks. This is all backed up by a range of tasty cakes and pastries, plus sandwiches if you want something more substantial.

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Tazza D’Oro

A classic, single espresso in a cylindrical cup at Rome's Tazza D'Oro.If I was still doing the Coffee Spot’s Where It All Began Award, Tazza D’Oro would be top of the list. Rome was where I first developed my taste for espresso, almost 20 years ago, and Tazza D’Oro played a large part in that. However, it’s been a long time since I’ve been to Rome, almost nine years in fact, long before I started the Coffee Spot and my taste in coffee has evolved a lot since then.

Tazza D’Oro, the self-styled Casa Del Caffè (House of Coffee), is near the Pantheon, right in the heart of Rome. It’s a traditional Italian espresso bar, right down to having a separate till at the door, where you order and pay for your coffee before taking the receipt to the counter, where one of the baristas will make your drink. If you’re going to do things in true Italian style, you’ll stand there and drink it. Back in the day, I adored Tazza D’Oro. The question is, what will I make of it after all these years?

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Faro, Luminari Del Caffè

Detail of the wall art in the back room of Faro in Rome, showing part of coffee's journey from plant to cup. Here the coffee is being shipped from origin.I’ll be honest: I came to Rome largely for the architecture and history, not for the speciality coffee. That said, I did have a small list, top of which was one of two places that people consistently mentioned to me: Faro, which styles itself as Rome’s first speciality coffee shop. Located north of Rome’s Termini station, it’s a little off the beaten track (about a 30 minute walk east of the historic centre), but definitely worth the detour.

Faro lives up to the billing, with a staggering 16 choices of coffee during my visit, all single-origins, two of which were espresso only, with the remaining 14 (which included one decaf) available as espresso or filter through either V60 or Aeropress. The beans, which came from seven different roasters across Italy, Germany and Denmark, are also available to buy in retail bags. In true Italian style, you can drink your coffee standing up at the counter, or you can take a seat and your coffee will be brought to you.

If you’re hungry, Faro has a concise brunch menu which is served until 15:30 every day, backed up by some excellent pastries and cakes, prepared in a kitchen behind the counter.

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Black Gold

A flat white, served in a classic black cup, at Amsterdam's Black Gold.I didn’t have very long to explore Amsterdam’s speciality coffee scene when I visited the city for the World of Coffee in June, but I noticed that the majority of places are outside of the centre, often to the south or west. In contrast, Black Gold, on a quiet, residential street, is just a short walk east of the red light district, making it one of the more easily-accessible speciality coffee shops for those on a more traditional tourist itinerary.

Black Gold is both a coffee shop and vinyl record shop, part of a small band of such establishments around the world. The front is given over the vinyl, although there is some seating and you are welcome to sit there with your coffee. Alternatively, there are a few more seats in the spacious rear of the shop. When it comes to coffee, Black Gold uses local roasters White Label Coffee, with a single-origin on espresso, where it’s joined by a guest roaster. There are also three single-origins on filter through V60, Aeropress, cafetiere and batch-brew, with the same single-origin guest espresso also available as one of the filter options, an innovation which only started in June.

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World of Coffee 2018

The new lever espresso machine from Kees van der Westen.This time last week I was in Amsterdam for the World of Coffee, the Specialty Coffee Association’s annual European jamboree. If you’ve never been to World of Coffee, think London Coffee Festival, but with a more relaxed feel. London Coffee Festival on decaf perhaps? Although general consumers are welcome, it is more of a trade event, which contributes to the relaxed atmosphere.

All the usual (big) names are there when it comes to coffee equipment, in a large, spacious main hall dominated by big stands. There’s a dedicated Roasters Village, home to the small (and not so small) speciality roasters. The stands are much smaller and closer together, which gives it a London Coffee Festival-like atmosphere, but without the annoyingly loud music. World of Coffee is also home to one or two of the world coffee championships, this year hosting the World Barista Championships.

I’ve not been very good at attending World of Coffee, first visiting two years ago in Dublin. I really enjoyed it though and had every intention of going to last year’s event in Budapest, but work sent me to Vietnam instead. I know, it’s a hard life. However, this year I was free and determined to go…

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Monks Coffee Roasters

Monks Coffee Roasters on Bilderdijkstraat in Amsterdah, with benches either side of the door and the counter clearly visible.Monks Coffee Roasters is part of Amsterdam’s multi-cultural coffee scene. The owner, Patrick, is a lovely Irishman who opened Monks in 2016 after 26 years in Melbourne, bringing with him a very Australian coffee and brunch concept, Monks serving a combined breakfast and lunch menu until 2:30 in the afternoon, backed up by copious quantities of cake.

When it comes to coffee, the name Monks Coffee Roasters is more aspirational than current reality, with the coffee toll-roasted by Bocca, another renowned name in Amsterdam speciality coffee. However, Patrick has a roaster on order and will soon be producing his own beans, supplemented by various guest roasters, including a guest espresso and multiple options on filter, with Monks offering V60, Kalita Wave, Aeropress, Chemex and French Press. You can have any bean via any method, but the staff have a default method for each bean.

Monks has a modest store-front, but this hides a large interior which goes a long way back, offering multiple seating options from window-bars at the front to a large, communal table at the back. There’s even a shaded garden/yard at the back, but sadly objections from the neighbours mean you can’t have your coffee out there.

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White Label Coffee

My espresso, a single-origin Rwanda, roasted and served at White Label Coffee.Amsterdam has an enviable collection of well-renowned coffee shop/roasters, but none came more highly recommended to me than White Label Coffee, out in West Amsterdam. So when I found myself in the neighbourhood, on my first day in the city after World of Coffee, naturally I had to go.

White Label has been going for four years from the same spot on Jan Evertsenstraat, although roasting now takes places in a dedicated facility a few doors away. There is a 6kg Giesen roaster at the back of the store, but this is only used on Mondays to roast the filter coffee. For the rest of the time, White Label Coffee is just a regular coffee shop, with perhaps the weirdest shape I’ve ever seen…

When it comes to coffee, White Label Coffee roasts numerous single-origins, all of which are for sale in the shop. When it comes to serving coffee, any of the filter roasts are available as a V60, with one selected each day for batch brew. Meanwhile, White Label Coffee offers two choices on espresso, putting on four kg at a time and changing it when it’s gone, which often means more than once a day!

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