Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sant’Eustachio il Caffe

For this post, I had to do some digging. Buried deep in a box, I found my journal from when I studied abroad in Rome in college. When I studied there, it was my first time in Italy and I knew straight away that this country of art, politics, and coffee was the place for me.

I lived just steps away from the most famous coffee shop in Rome: Sant'Eustachio. Instead of describing it from memory, below is what I wrote during my first few days of living in Rome.

Sundays are quite in Italy. I woke up early to shop for paints and canvases, but when I got to the store I found it closed. It's Sunday, which has a much different meaning here than it does in America. While I walked back to my house - a 700-year old flat about three and a half steps from the Pantheon - I made a pit stop at the supermarcheto for some fresh bread, cheese, pesto, and olives. I sat on the wall surrounding the Pantheon munching away, and couldn't believe where I was.

After eating a loaf of bread and container of pesto by myself, I decided to wander the streets and scope out a place for coffee. Down a few small side streets I stumbled upon a small café tucked in the wall across from a Baroque portico. 

I sat at a small table outside and ordered a cappuccino, because that’s what Italians drink, right? 

The sizes of Italian coffee are much smaller than American coffees, and much more flavorful. While I sipped on the cappuccino an Italian couple sat down next to me and placed their order. Five minutes later the waiter came back with a tall, frosty glass filled with what looks like an American, iced cappuccino, but without the ice. Another frosty glass was placed on their table, filled with whipped cream and brown ice shavings - something I have never seen before. I leaned over and pointed at the drinks saying, “che?” and they responded, “frappe de café” and “granita de café” - I jotted these down for later use. Though my cappuccino was out of this world (or at least out of the U.S.) I decided I knew that was the next on my list to try, and so my Italian coffee journey has begun.

Reading this post is hysterical to me now because while I do remembering enjoying the cappuccino (despite the brutally hot day) and I had no idea at the time that this small cafe was world famous. Sant’Eustachio il Caffe is named after the church I mentioned across the way with the Baroque portico. I became a frequent visitor there, and became friends with Mario, on of the baristas.

I quickly learned that Sant'Eustachio is known for it's espresso, which is easily the best I have ever had, and probably the best I will ever have. I visited the cafe every morning. I went early, knowing it would be crowded with tourists later in the day. I would talk with Mario while standing next to Member's of the Italian Parliament and listen to them chatting away about Berlusconi and just enjoying life the Italian way.

Mario would laugh at me because I never wanted sugar in my espresso. In America, you come to think of sugar in coffee as a very American thing. But as Mario put it, it's all the Americans that come to visit that want their espresso without sugar while the Italians like it sweet.

 Living abroad was one of the best things I have ever done. I have been back to Rome many times since, but only for visits. And each time I go, I make sure to start the day at Sant’Eustachio.

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