Standing at a bar for a shot of espresso is a ritual born in the post war era of deprivation Italy. So important and ingrained is coffee culture in Italy that the government determines the price. That price though is an expression of government regulation and largesse and bears little relationship to profit margins or market forces. For those, you need to sit down and order a coffee.
It is within this framework of government determined pricing that Italian coffee is largely built. That’s a good thing if you are looking for a shot of caffeine but not such a good thing if you prefer a balanced beverage with sweetness, acidity and mouth feel. Italian coffee is built to a price. It has to be in order for the bar operator to cover rent and wages and other operating costs. But 1 Euro leaves little margin for error and so the historical formula of 7 grams of coffee extracted at 9 bars for 30 seconds remains the standard. In Italy, coffee blends have an inordinately high percentage of low end and low cost Robusta that might serve to increase crema and perceived strength but realistically produce a clawing beverage commonly described as burnt rubber. It’s difficult to differentiate one espresso from another irrespective of location and that differential is further reduced when the obligatory sugar or two is added.
Locally, coffee making has evolved over the past decade. Typically, the dose of coffee in a double basket is now 20 grams and almost always a blend of 100% Arabica beans. Applying that espresso formula to imported coffee with a high percentage of robusta produces a demanding beverage that is barely drinkable. In an automatic office coffee machine, that same coffee becomes even more challenging. Italian coffee comes from Italy which means a façade of style, tradition and of course branding but it doesn’t mean flavour.