Brian's Coffee Spot

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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.

You can see what I found in Rome after the gallery.

  • My first espresso on my return to Rome, in a cafeteria in the underground!
  • I also tried a couple of espresso bars near my hotel. This one was pretty decent...
  • ... while this one was less so.
  • However, mostly I sought out good/speciality coffee, starting with Faro...
  • ... where I had an espresso...
  • ... and a pour-over.
  • I also went for the quintessential espresso bar experience at Tazzo D'Oro...
  • ... where first you get the promise of coffee...
  • ... followed by the coffee itself.
  • Another espresso bar, another promise of coffee.
  • This time it's Sant' Eustachio Il Caffe, on the other side of the Pantheon from Tazza D'Oro.
  • Here the espresso is served with an incredibly rich, foamy crema.
  • For an alternative, my coffee-buddy Amanda and I popped down to The Tram Depot...
  • ... which serves Italian single-origin speciality coffee. Due espresso, per favore.
  • Finally, I've saved the best until last. Behind this tiny facade is  Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria...
  • ... which we visited every day for espresso...
  • ... or espresso (me) and cappuccino (Amanda)...
  • ... and we even managed to get in some pour-over!
My first espresso on my return to Rome, in a cafeteria in the underground!1 I also tried a couple of espresso bars near my hotel. This one was pretty decent...2 ... while this one was less so.3 However, mostly I sought out good/speciality coffee, starting with Faro...4 ... where I had an espresso...5 ... and a pour-over.6 I also went for the quintessential espresso bar experience at Tazzo D'Oro...7 ... where first you get the promise of coffee...8 ... followed by the coffee itself.9 Another espresso bar, another promise of coffee.10 This time it's Sant' Eustachio Il Caffe, on the other side of the Pantheon from Tazza D'Oro.11 Here the espresso is served with an incredibly rich, foamy crema.12 For an alternative, my coffee-buddy Amanda and I popped down to The Tram Depot...13 ... which serves Italian single-origin speciality coffee. Due espresso, per favore.14 Finally, I've saved the best until last. Behind this tiny facade is  Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria...15 ... which we visited every day for espresso...16 ... or espresso (me) and cappuccino (Amanda)...17 ... and we even managed to get in some pour-over!18
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I went to Rome primarily for work/sight-seeing, with coffee very much (for once) second on my list. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by what I found, drinking some really great coffee along the way, as well as a few bad ones. What follows is my guide to Rome’s coffee and coffee culture, based on my experience over the ten days, so please don’t take what follows as either comprehensive or particularly authoritative!

The first thing to say about Italian coffee culture (as I found it in Rome) is that it is very espresso-based. There really is no concept of filter coffee, certainly not batch-brewed coffee, and while I found a few places doing pour-over, only Faro really pushed it, while in Roscioli Caffè it took me until my fourth visit to actually realise it does pour-over!

Although many places have long lists of different coffee-based drinks, the typical order is for an espresso (or possibility a macchiato or cappuccino). The idea of different drinks sizes is also absent. There’s no small, medium or large: a cappuccino is just a cappuccino and that’s it, while an espresso is almost universally a single, 7 gram shot, unless you specifically ask for a double (doppio).

The typical espresso experience is, in keeping with the name, brief. Normally (unless it’s a small, one-person operation), there is a separate till where you order and pay. You then take your receipt to the counter and hand it to the barista. In return, you’ll get a saucer (the promise of coffee to come) and, if the place is any good, a glass of water.

Not long after that, your coffee will arrive, you’ll drink it standing at the counter, and then you’ll go. The whole experience takes a few minutes at most. Even somewhere like Faro, which feels very much like a speciality coffee shop, the people who were sitting at the tables tended not to linger very long, maybe 10-15 minutes at the most.

Which brings me to another aspect: tables. The typical Italian espresso bar has a business model based on selling coffee very cheaply, with an espresso costing around €1 and a cappuccino not much more. To make money from that, you have to sell a lot of coffee, and that’s exactly what the busy espresso bars do. Sitting down, particularly if you are lingering, breaks that model, which is why many places charge a premium for table service.

Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffè is a good example of this, where an espresso at the counter is €1.30, but if you sit at one of the tables out front, it’s €3.80. Many people seem upset by this, but to me it’s perfectly reasonable and makes a good deal of sense. Remember, you’re paying for what you get, not just the drink, and in this case, what you’re getting is full table service. If you just want an espresso, go stand at the counter like everyone else.

With that out of the way, what did I find? Overall, my experience was positive. My first espresso was not long after I arrived, at a station cafeteria, when I needed change for the ticket machines on the underground. My espresso wasn’t great, but it wasn’t too bad either. In contrast, my final espresso was at the airport, and it was vile. In between, I tried various espresso bars and a couple of after-lunch espressos. These tended to be a little too darkly roasted for my tastes, but generally well-made, while a few had that distinctive Robusta taste which I have come to dislike.

On the whole, though, I stuck to places I knew I would like, all of which I’ve written up and included below. If you want a typical Italian espresso experience, I recommend trying Tazza D’Oro and Sant’ Eustachio Il Caffè which are in the centre, on either side of the Pantheon. Both are typical Italian espresso bars offering Arabica espresso blends, but with very different characters. At the other end of the scale, if you want an Italian speciality coffee shop, try Faro, Luminari Del Caffè.

The remaining two on my list both offer Italian-roasted speciality coffee, including pour-over. The Tram Depot is a cross between a coffee kiosk and an outdoor bar while my favourite was Roscioli Caffè Pasticceria, which consistently served the best coffee I had in my time in Rome (although, as a caveat, I would say that I only tried two of the 16 options at Faro and didn’t get to try the pour-over at The Tram Depot).

Below you’ll find the five Coffee Spots I wrote about while I was in Rome, listed in alphabetical order. I am, by the way, indebted to Antonio Orria of Origin Coffee who suggested most of these to me, as well as Steve of Darkroom Espresso, who was the first of many to put me onto Faro. Finally, for more decent coffee in Rome, take a look at European Coffee Trip’s Guide to Rome.

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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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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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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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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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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3 thoughts on “When in Rome…

  1. Pingback: Surrey Hills Coffee, London Square | Brian's Coffee Spot

  2. Pingback: Pour-over at Roscioli Caffè | Brian's Coffee Spot

  3. Pingback: The Coffee Spot is Seven! | Brian's Coffee Spot

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