Sunday, November 7

The Best Espresso in Rome? Better order Decaf calm your nerves after the ordeal. 

A lot of ink has been spilled on the trials & tribulations of getting a good cup 'a Giò in Italy, in the USA, at home, you name it.  The results have been researched, reviled & riling the feathers of many who have come before.  But the best piece of writing - ever - on the topic comes from the NYTimes - 2002 report by William Grimes who searches for this Holy Grail in New York City, and draws the conclusion -- better to forego the ersatz drink and head straight to Rome's annointed Sant'Eustachio coffee bar.  Figures.  He's a New Yorker.
The "service" of Sant'Eustachio (and I use the term quite loosely) could mirror the legendary rudeness of a New York waiter who was just told he was fired, owed 3 years' back taxes and the table he's serving was the Tax Man here to collect them.  One walk into the Sant'Eustachio bar and I'm wholly convinced I've been transported to Milan - and that's a bald-faced lie - because the baristas in Milano have never been anything less than fun, flamboyant & fenomenale.  So I'm transported to a Milanese grocery store instead.  Like their Milanese fratelli, the Sant'Eustacchio guys simply don't care - the business keeps 'em pouring in the door - and the caffè dripping from the spouts (and at $3/cup, the euros flowing into the cash drawer, as well).
I was once "invited" on Facebook to become a Fan of Sant'EustachioThere was no greater disconnect I could think of on Earth than to "Friend" a place that seriously doesn't want friends, need them, nor care further about my custom.  The experience at Sant'Eustachio is basically Seinfeld's 'Soup Nazi' - Italian style.  If you've managed to make it past the cashier gauntlet to place your order without getting thrown out first, you then need to crowd at the bar - 4 persons deep - and elbow your way in for them to actually make it.  It's part of the 'experience'.  I've seen tiny goats climb atop a herd of sheep to steal a morsel from the trough at feeding time have better luck.
Check out the picture on their website, and it is clearly running counter to 'truth in advertising' laws [men gathered, obviously during wartime when millions were busy on five fronts, women were in the factories, and no tourists were milling about].
If you order the excellent Grancaffè (and I would strongly advise against asking what the other dozen or so 'types' on offer mean), you can barely suck it down before  being elbowed out by the onslaught of new customers waiting their turn.  They offer a (slightly) pre-sweetened brew in their secret recipe--the real secret is that they don't want anyone so much as spending the 3 seconds it would take to pour in the sugar & swirl.  So much for the slow pace of Italian life. Only Americans, who leave their coffee shops with the actual cup in hand drink faster.
I think the NYTimes author got it all wrong:  It's not called espresso for the way the coffee shoots up into the pot, it's the urgency of the experience brought to an art form at Caffè Sant'Eustachio.
But, is it worth the effort?  My American guest was thrilled down to her toes at the  entire affair.  We found a nice corner to enjoy our brew slowly, and even got to exchange quips with the furiously-paced wait staff.  I did find out later (on trip advisor), that if we'd placed our tip within eyeshot, we may have been served before breaking into a cold sweat & contractions reminiscent of childbirth.
But on the whole, before 'Fanning & Faving' Sant'Eustachio, I'll take my cue and paraphrase one Groucho Marx: I wouldn't want to join any group that really would rather not have me as a member.

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Gustiamo-NY said...

ciao Francesca, your story is very funny! We at import sant'eustachio coffee to America and I always feel they are doing us a favor! My business meetings with Raimondo, the owner, are held at the shop, he at the cash register, me standing by him in front of hordes of customers. Very frustrating! it takes for ever to get a thought across! Thanks for sharing!

AmericanGuest said...

You slay me.