Good or bad, you pay it all the same

by Luigi Odello

Secretary General of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters, he is also a lecturer at the University of Udine, Verona and at the Cattolica in Piacenza. In addition he is the Chairman of the Taster Study Center and Secretary General of the Italian Espresso National Institute

The espresso taken at the coffe shop is one of the few products of the ‘Bel Paese’, Italy, associated with the idea of pleasure that you pay for all the same, be it good or bad. Actually, its price depends more on the geography – in the South of Italy it is cheaper – than on the degree of pleasure it can give.
Hear this out: two coffee shops in the Loreto area in Milan; both nice and rather big in size. The first one is Bar Gatto, with tables outdoors. I step inside an there is a sparkling counter behind which is a shiny Faema positioned in a way that makes it possible for the barista never to turn his back on the clients. I ask for a coffee and promptly the barista prepares it with the machine. I am not able to fully see the operations he is performing but it seems to me that he is doing things professionally. Here comes the first surprise: after having finished his job he comes round to me and says: “Listen, I prepared two cups because I will drink one myself, just choose the one you like most”. Believe me, for a second I thought I was not really in Milan. I give a look at the two espressos, in one of them there is a white spot – the same old story: the two exits of the filter-holder never give you two identical coffees – and so I go for the other one. Nice hazel-shade creamy froth with a fine texture, the smell is flowery. To the palate it is silky, with a fine balance between bitter and acid and then it develops a complex aroma in which you can distinguish the toasted bread, the cocoa, dried fruit and nuts. I ask for the name of the blend because I cannot possibly spot it: Prestige by Covim. I say that the coffee is nice, sit there and chat for a while and then I pay: € 0,80.
I carry on my tour in the various coffee shops looking for the sort of quality in the espresso that has been defined by the International Institute of Coffee Tasters and shortly after I walk in another elegant coffee shops with an attractive name: Bar del Corso. Once again, the staff is polite. I start speaking about the price of a cup of coffee in Milan, a very popular topic at the time. They guarantee they will not increase it till the moment the supplier will increase the price of the blend. I ask for a coffee and immediately the bar tender removes the filter holder from a nice Cimbali, he fills it with a strong stroke, he presses it with energy, he wipes any coffee grounds off the rim of the filter, he fastens it and observes the coffee while it pours in the cup and stops the machine at the right moment. No doubts that he knows what he is doing and he is professional.
He hands the coffee over to me and I observe it. The colour of the creamy froth is right but the texture is rather coarse. The notes of straw, dry grass and wet earth are clear to the nose. To the palate, it is thick and has a good body but as you swallow it the tongue becomes rough and the interior of the cheeks wrinkles. With regard to sensations perceived at the back of the throat, the notes are just the same notes perceived by the nose but even stronger and more annoying. I pay for it: € 0,90. I keep in my mind the name of the blend: Hardy. I then head to the following bar but I am accompanied by an astringent sensation that does not want to leave my mouth. I hope I will be able to find something better but I no longer want to have any more coffee and I am afraid I will not be able to be a fair judge for the sample I will taste.

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