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The endless espresso vs brewed coffee argument

Thought there was some insight here, and although I agree that espresso is a limiting experience and not my preference, I don't like every place becoming the same.

http://www.bbc.com/news/business-41299600

Posted by
6392 posts

Not sure if you meant this, but there's no evidence in the article that every place is becoming uniform (or "Americanized"). It just seems like a very mature coffee market is getting segmented and the new chains are luring interested young people with things that traditional bars don't have....more comfortable sitting space (not just bar stools or small tables to lean on), free wi-fi, and permission/expectation to linger. And those big carry away cups which add even more flexibility (and unfortunately a lot more trash).

There will always be a subset of any population that seeks out or is open to something brand new or trendy. Same thing happened in the US when the coffee shop expanded beyond Starbucks/Dunkin/Mc Donalds/Dennys to places that have real espresso machines and serve coffees that Americans who didn't travel overseas weren't used to. Coffee shops in large US cities are evolving to look more European and it seems that some of the opposite is happening over there...everyone wants what they don't have, it's human nature. Young people are generally not "stuck in their ways" and open to more experimentation.

Posted by
1833 posts

The Italian bar is based on a 'drink up and leave' mentality and if you're there for more than they get annoyed

Not true, there are people that actually stay all day in italian bars reading the local papers and chatting with other regulars. The espresso is the perfect drink for those who have no time, but you're not expected to leave. In fact the cover charge is a "defense" against the italian habit of staying hours at any table without ordering.

Lingering is the cornerstone of Italian coffe culture, and it's been this way for centuries. The Venice uprising was planned by young bohemians sitting at the Florian tables. The Austrian cops were so used to see groups of youngsters spending hours at the bar doing nothing except talking that they didn't realize those were political meetings.

Marketing at its worst... and are Italian businessmen doing it, not the BBC journalist!

Posted by
11845 posts

Interesting article, Tom, and thanks for posting!
I can't say as I'm surprised at younger generations driving a shift in culture and taste preferences? 'Tis always been the way, really.

Key points:
"We like it here because we can study and be connected online...."
"...the drink options are far more exotic..."
"I enjoy coming here because it's stylish and has a young fresh feel..."
"...research has found that Italians, particularly younger ones, are keen to experiment beyond the traditional espresso."
"....I love that you can carry it around with you in the big paper cups." (portability/flexibility)

"The Italian bar is based on a 'drink up and leave' mentality and if you're there for more than 10 minutes they get annoyed." Dario, you shot a hole in that one but maybe there are places where teenagers haven't felt exactly welcome to hang around for long, and especially not with their devices? You'd know better than I about that.

I guess I see it as less of a loss of culture as merely natural evolution motivated by changing lifestyles, increasing dependance on technology, broadening global exposure, youthful sense of adventure, etc.?

Posted by
2534 posts

EXCOMMUNICATION! That is the fate that should befall these entrepreneurs. I was raised in an Italian area of New York and was exposed to those funny little coffee pots at a young age. My German parents drank nothing but Savarin from a drip pot, my aunt was a Maxwell House fan from a Silex vacuum pot. This is the swill we would disguise with cream and sugar. Then Starbucks arose with all their flavored over-priced concoctions. I remember the first time I had an espresso there; it was the last time as well. Looks like these new stores will help to destroy a unique part of Italian culture. I only wish that I were able to pop into a bar here in the States that served a perfectly drawn Illy or Lavazza espresso for 1.20€ or a cafe correto for 1€ more.

My trips to Italy converted me to well prepared, flavorful espresso. Now I never drink "American coffee." My palate won't allow it. I went the route of having a standard Bialetti pot on my stove and finally caved to a super-automatic from Jura Capresso that grinds, measures and brews almost as well as a barista in Trieste. They're expensive and I now have my second bella machina, having worn the first one out after 12 years of continuous use. Not a cheap appliance but for me a small vice. So for me the quandary of espresso vs. brewed was decided a long time ago!

Posted by
12019 posts

In spite of all the hype, these American style chain enterprises are not taking over anything.
I'm all for more diversity, and Italians, I'm sure, want to experiment different things too. The world is becoming smaller, and you can find choices from all over the world that weren't available decades or even years ago.
The same is true in America. 30 years ago it was impossible to find espresso or prosciutto outside the Italian areas of major US cities.
However it is not true that these chains are taking over. Even looking at McDonald's which open the first store in Rome in the 1980's (near Piazza di Spagna), hasn't taken over anything. There are still plenty of traditional restaurants in Italy. In Florence, in spite of the huge American presence, there are only a dozen McDonalds and 3 burger king restaurants. In the entire Rome metro area, there are no more than 2 dozens McDonalds and Burger King has a similar number. If you go outside these major metro areas, you will find very few, or maybe none at all.

Posted by
4901 posts

I think the mistake this article makes, and the erroneous assumption of many is that these places (12 Oz Coffee, Starbucks, Costa, etc) are in direct competition with the corner Barista, they are not. They are in competition in that they are an alternative drink, just like smoothies and juices as well as a local bakery serving drinks, but traditional coffee is not their product.

Starbucks for example sells relatively little brewed coffee and straight espresso, but loads of more expensive drink concoctions. That is what the locals are going for, and they are not available at the corner shop. Any Starbucks I have been in (London, Netherlands, Belgium, Madrid) are very busy and full of mostly locals, usually younger.

Posted by
11613 posts

So, if Italians are walking down the street with a giant paper coffee cup in one hand and a cellphone in the other, how are they going to talk?

Posted by
9477 posts

Blue tooth, Zoe. Blue tooth.

I dunno.... I cannot get used to 12 ounce coffees (minimum size) since we lived in Italy. And paper cups?!?!? Yuck! This old girl likes ceramic for a quick shot, a lungo, or a nice cappuccino of what, 6 ounces? So happy to be back in the land of sensible coffee sizes if only temporarily.

Posted by
11845 posts

Any Starbucks I have been in (London, Netherlands, Belgium, Madrid)
are very busy and full of mostly locals, usually younger.

That's been my experience too, Paul. I'll add Paris to that list, and I believe we went to one in Munich as well. It wasn't as much a jones for Starbucks (we have a different favorite at home) as being able to get a good-sized cup to go when on a self-imposed schedule. Multitasking, ya know?

Posted by
337 posts

We were in Vienna, where a cobbler with no English noted the semi-acceptability of Vapiano for coffee, but that Starbucks was "Nicht, nicht, nicht!!!!!" Of course, we were there for Austria Day, and all the local cafes were open, and so there we were, with locals, in the 'bucks, having a passable melange.

Returning from Italy this time, the difference in a cappuccino is really in the cup. You cannot possibly enjoy it properly out of a tall narrow paper cup, at the same level of enjoyment you get from a wide mouth mug. The same for au-lait.

Posted by
782 posts

I grew up in New England, which is to say that I was raised on Dunkin Donuts coffee. However, the greatest gift I ever received was when I first moved to Italy and my neighbor bought me a moka. I've been hooked on Italian coffee ever since, I can't stomach the huge brewed style of the US nowadays. We had to move back to the US for almost three years and I would have died without my moka. I even bought an electric moka so I could my usual 2-3 caffes at work during the day and several coworkers became converts. At times when I was stuck somewhere without my moka, I usually would order a small black coffee, just couldn't handle the medium or large ones. I've learned that espresso is the perfect caffeine delivery system, it's like injecting yourself in small doses throughout the day rather than the way I used to do it - one massive dose in the morning that left me jittery and wide awake but then made me crash after an hour or two when it wore off. And to bring it back to travel related topics, whenever I'm in Venice and have to use the bathroom, I just pop into a bar and have a caffe; cheaper than paying for the public bathrooms and acts as the perfect pick-me-up!

One interesting thing I've noticed about the Bialetti mokas over the last few years is that, although they are easy to get in the US now, it's nigh impossible to find a 2 cup size. Even on Amazon, you'll find 1 cup, 3 cup, etc. but no 2 cup Bialetti mokas. I was in the Little Italy section of Philly a couple years ago and found an Italian kitchen store so I tried to buy a 2 cup size but they didn't have any either. I asked the guy there why it's so hard to find a 2 cup Bialetti moka in the US, he shook his head and said "I don't know why but for some reason, the 2 cup size is the only one they don't export from Italy". Seems very strange to me.

Posted by
1160 posts

There is on youtube a very humorous account (in Italian, or better said, in Florentine dialect) of what does it mean to be a barman making coffee in Italy. Apparently everyone has a different request - make it long, make it short, make it overflowing, only three drops, with milk but not frothy milk, in a glass, in a cold glass, etcetera. There are also people that try to be too clever ("Make me a caffè macchiato: coffee, very abundant, in a big mug, with hot milk - lots of frothy milk." "Then you pay a cappuccino" "No, I asked for a macchiato".)

(Only for very fluent Italian speakers: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yip3zucWyEU )

Posted by
5371 posts

A simple caffe corretto is the answer to all coffee debates.

Its surprising that Starbucks has not yet offered this solution.

Posted by
2534 posts

Its surprising that Starbucks has not yet offered this solution.

And if they did, it'd cost at least $7 and the espresso would still be horrible!

Posted by
261 posts

I wasn't aware there was some argument going on. Sounds like an idea dreamed up by a journalist on a deadline.

I know so many Italians whose stomachs or nervous systems can't tolerate espresso. Many tourists wrongly assume that every local participates in these rituals. Espresso breath is often as bad as cigarette breath. Yuck. No kissing on this thread.

Posted by
792 posts

After our first trip to Italy years ago the only coffee my wife and I make at home is via the 3-part Bialetti coffee pots you heat on a stove top ...with Italian coffee of course. Love it!

Posted by
6392 posts

There are as many opinions about tea as there are about coffee - it's no less contentious. Both are very versatile drinks and everybody's got his/her own opinions on what's "good". I love coffee and tea, but it would be hard to convince me to drink tea in Italy. "Decent enough" doesn't cut it when their coffee is (pretty close to) perfection.

Posted by
261 posts

I've written about this elsewhere: I travel with my own coffee. The freshly-roasted bean selection available in NYC these days is spectacular, truly world class. In many ways, it's far superior to what Italian hotels and bars can offer. My Bialetti is nothing more than polished kitchen decoration these days.

It's almost impossible to find a coffee bar in Italy open and serving before 7 AM. I'm up and working much earlier than that, so I prefer something convenient in my room. I love my travel Kalita that I picked up in Tokyo over twenty years ago. I'm usually out on the streets working between 7-8. Then I'll stop at a favorite bar and enjoy a cappuccino con cornetto. I try to visit as many recommended bars as I can on a trip. I love analyzing the different beans and brews used, but I bring less Italian beans home these days. There's far more exciting bean choices in my fridge.

Posted by
3437 posts

Hmmm. I've never had an endless espresso. I think I would get jittery. :-)

Posted by
2907 posts

While I am only intermittently a tea drinker, it is the same process of drinking a substantial, warming, rehydrating, quantity of fluid with tea that I like about drinking a few cups of brewed coffee vs sips of espresso.

BTW I always add the milk to the cup first for both tea and coffee as it saves needing a spoon. AFAIK the only reason for adding milk later is snobby British cultural history, since cheaper china might be saved from cracking if a pool of milk sat in the cup before very hot liquids were poured in. Adding the milk after was a way for the rich to show off their expensive china and that it didn't crack, not for reasons of the way the beverage tastes.

Posted by
6013 posts

Adding the milk first to stop china cracking is partially true but there is a more practical reason. How do you know how much milk you are going to need unless you have actually poured the tea? Addng milk second means you have more control over the strength of your drink. If you do the milk first and the tea hasn't brewed for long enough you are left with a disgustingly weak and milky tea. Grim!

Posted by
11613 posts

I put the milk in first to save using a spoon, too!

Posted by
261 posts

You read and learn. I've never heard of someone's need to conserve on spoon use before.

I find a perfectly colored brew, whether coffee or tea, to be a crucial element of enjoyment. I prefer cream over milk, and a little goes a long way. In tea, only a few drops will do for me. If one uses the same beverage cup each time, it's easy to know the precise measurement you desire before pouring it first. Sometimes, I heat my cream before adding the coffee, but I've never not stirred with a spoon before drinking. And I've never felt a need to conserve on spoon use. If someone is making the coffee or tea for me, the cream absolutely must go in second. I adore the hosts who warm the cream in advance, which is what I do if I'm having guests.

Posted by
6013 posts

Not wanting to start an argument here but the idea of cream, not milk, in tea is even more upsetting than putting milk in first!

And even when milk goes in second there is no need for a spoon, it mixes very well on its own

Posted by
6392 posts

Keith,
I rest my case. People who drink tea think they know what's best and will argue every point, just as the case of coffee. Getting upset over other peoples' drink choices/methods is futile, as there are many cultural and personal reasons behind variation. I don't use milk or cream in tea (except out of courtesy if someone else offers it). I don't think millions of Chinese or Japanese do either, so I can't be the only one :-)

Posted by
8889 posts

Always milk second for reasons given. The strength of the beverage decides how much milk is needed.

I like both my tea and coffee strong. A weak brew made weaker by pre-poured milk is very unpleasant.

Posted by
261 posts

"Getting upset over other peoples' drink choices/methods is futile"

I totally agree with that. I like my tea dark, so when I say a few drops of cream, I mean a few drops. I'm absolutely sure no tea enthusiast would ever know I used cream. There's simply too little to discern. I have no problem using milk in my tea, but I rarely have milk in the fridge. I'm certainly not going to go out and buy it just to enjoy a cup of Kusmi. Also, it would never occur to me to add dairy to Asian tea. When in China or Japan, no dairy in the tea.

I don't have a problem drinking tea without dairy, if necessary. But I sure don't enjoy black coffee. To each her own.

Posted by
31137 posts

"But I sure don't enjoy black coffee. To each her own."

To each their own indeed. That's the only way I enjoy coffee, and I'm having a freshly brewed Americano at an Italian restaurant right now.

Posted by
11845 posts

Blimey.
Beer is a lot less complicated.
Go to pub. Order pint. Drink.

Posted by
2907 posts

Of course the tea bag in mug needs no spoon, but I still prefer a small 2-1/2 cup teapot since a tea bag in a mug goes to bitter/too strong in like 10 seconds whereas a single bag in a small teapot can steep a while. I confess to having had the milky weak brew problem, but then I just tip some of it out and add straight tea.

Posted by
846 posts

Wow, it can all get a bit complicated.
Take Limoges china teacup and saucer, install selected teabag in teacup.
Add freshly boiled spring water to aforementioned teacup.
Observe carefully how the brew changes colour.
Remove said teabag when desired colour is obtained.
Add, depending on your preference, a slice of lemon (organic please), or a little milk from sustainably managed Jersey cows, or a little yak milk from herds raised on the north slopes of certain alps. Or maybe some cream from grass raised cattle.
Sip, making appropriate noises of appreciation.

Otherwise, take selected ground coffee, from trees raised in ecologically friendly plantations, roasted using fuel from gas fields that have taken good care of ground water contamination, or perhaps wood fired roasters with fuel sourced from renewable plantations.

Choose your prefered method of making coffee, a Melitta filter, a percolator (wash your mouth out, boy), a stove top Bialletti, the choices are endless.

Make coffee. Add milk as noted above, or perhaps none, should one prefer it black. Sweeten as desired, using white or brown sugar, or social gravel, aka coffee crystals. Honey is also an option, from sustainably managed hives.

Or, plug capsule into Aldi coffee maker, hit play and enjoy.

Or breast the bar in Italy, order coffee, take brioche and devour, hand over about 2.50 euro and be on your way.

Posted by
6392 posts

Coffee with honey? That's a new twist

Posted by
752 posts

If anyone knows of any Bars in Rome where I can truly linger over a cup of coffee, let me know. For the most part it's still a shot mentality here.
Even at the convent in Monti where I'm staying now the young gals stand at the coffee machine and shoot it back as soon as they make it! They make as many shots as they can shoot back too! In a row, one after the other! I've never been able to do that.

They think I'm weird, well I think they're weird! My favorite Bars are those who take my payment and then direct me to sit down. Many come around and carry my order to a table. Some direct me to choose a table. Recently at La Rinascente in Rome I bought a Caffe Latte and tiny chocolate cupcake and the Bar directed me to sit at the divano. If a Bar invites me to sit for the price of a counter coffee, I sit.

But many Bars have the fast-paced shotter culture, and it's a matter of learning where I fit in and feel most comfortable. I do stand at Bars if I'm not invited to sit, but I don't shoot anything back, and I don't linger too long. I do something in between.

Posted by
261 posts

"They think I'm weird, well I think they're weird!"

If only someone would give me a $10 bill every time I thought this sentiment.

I don't do shots of anything. I'm a savor-the-moment kind of gal. Instant gratification is a huge turn-off for me. One can only imagine how much fun I have working with certain younger folk these days.

There are bars in Rome that let you linger all day. I can't mention my favorite one on a travel board. The owner would not be happy with me. They're not that difficult to find, especially if you're a repeat customer. There are certain perks when your face appears more than once and it's pleasantly recognized.