We have a lot to thank Italy for when it comes to coffee. Italians helped popularize the beverage for regular consumption around the Renaissance, they invented the first espresso machine in 1884, and they created their own culture influential enough to spur on the green wave of coffee in the US that is Starbucks. Without the country, I would not be writing this blog as I sip on an espresso and tonic (try it out at home sometime, it's pretty gnarly). We would not have the incredible coffee we drink today in the States. They are driven, they are inspiring, they are traditional.
You know what else is traditional? The running of the bulls.
What I mean by this is that tradition doesn't always make a whole lot of sense to those outside of a specific culture; you probably won't ever see me running away from and angry stampede of bulls down the streets of Barcelona, and you probably won't see me drinking bad espresso very often. Yeah, maybe I sound like an angry and naive youth, but Italian espresso, no matter how traditional you may like to describe it, is not good.
The way coffee used to be drunk hundreds of years ago is very different then the way we drink it today. Those drinking it never tried to do anything different different than what they were shown; put the green coffee in a hot pan until with was black, pound it up, add water and drink it. They didn't care about taste because they only knew the bitter black magic that gave them energy and let them sleep less. Why mess with something that isn't broken?
When the Italians got a hold of the stuff, their innovation was to condense a brew by using a lot of pressure to make a shot of espresso and then add some milk to it. This allowed for a quick breakfast with a jolt of energy and some nice milkfat to get the farmers and fishermen up and running until lunch.
It worked, why change it?
If you go to Italy today, you will often be met with the same traditional methods of preparation, and the resulting espresso is, well, pretty funky. It continues to be burnt and over-roasted; bitter robusta beans with loads of caffeine are added to the blends to create a charcoal and burning rubber – tasting shot in your authentic cappuccino.
But, it's the way they've always done it. Why? Well, coffee has a different reputation in that culture when compared to our current one, and that's okay. The flavor isn't something to be fussed over, it is what it is and that simplicity is beautiful enough to keep doing it exactly the same way. In the States, we've decided to fuss over it, and that's okay too. I fuss a lot, so I'm going to keep searching and experimenting and tasting and not sleeping while the traditionalists roll their eyes at me as they down their morning pick-me-up.
But hey, when in Rome, right?
Hayden Kaye is our Master Roaster and head of the Say Interesting Stuff department.
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