Italian cuisine is overflowing with truly classic products and dishes. From pasta, pizza and pesto, to tiramisu, gelatos and negronis. Created and traditionally made from local ingredients grown easily in the Mediterranean climate. And then exported across the world with the rest of the Italian diaspora.
But there’s one peculiar exception to this trend – coffee. Italian coffee is widely held to be the best in the world. And the Italian coffee served in Limoncello to be the best in Cambridge. If you doubt this then ask any Italian and they will set you straight. Yet Italy isn’t exactly known for its verdant coffee plantations – so what gives?
What Makes it Italian?
Let’s be clear here – Italians arrived as late to the coffee scene as they do to any appointment. Arabs and other peoples of the Medieval Muslim world had been drinking coffee for centuries before they brought it to Europe. And they brought it not to Italy, but to the Hapsburg Imperial capital of Vienna in the form of a literal invasion. Legend has it that as the Ottoman Turks withdrew from their unsuccessful siege of Vienna in 1683 they left behind sacks and sacks of coffee beans. Which the Viennese seized as spoils of war and found they quite liked. Sparking the European craze for coffee which continues to this day.
So if coffee doesn’t grow in Italy, and Italians weren’t even the first Europeans to drink it, then why do Italian words dominate the language of coffee? Espresso. Cappuccino. Macchiato. Even Americano is an Italian word for how those weird Americans liked their coffee. The answer is because the Italians were intense coffee innovators. Experimenting with different preparation, serving and roasting styles. Then iterating and refining to produce the perfect coffee experience.
Although there are many stages to the production of a truly great cup of coffee, none are as important to the final product as the roast. As you roast green coffee beans they slowly lose much of their natural acidity. Which can be unpleasant to the taste and harsh on the stomach. Yet the more you roast the less original flavour from the natural bean will remain to pass into the finished cup. Slowly being replaced by first sweet, caramel and chocolatey tones. Then ultimately the bitter tang of the burnt to a crisp dark roast.
So when we talk of “Italian coffee” we’re not talking about country of origin as much as style of roast and serve. The Italian roast is somewhere between a medium and a dark roast, but closer to dark. Always trying to hit that elusive sweet spot in the middle where it is neither too acidic, nor too bitter. Retaining much of the original flavour of the carefully sourced beans, yet enhanced by caramel undertones.
Limoncello coffee is so good due to our usual approach of sourcing from only the best of artisanal suppliers. Though in the case of our coffee this isn’t from rural Italy, but instead local. Sort of. The excellent Norwich based Green Farm source green beans from plantations across the world. Then utilize their expert knowledge to roast and blend to perfection. In our case, a specially selected blend of both robusta and arabica coffee beans roasted in the Italian style, resulting in a potent yet smooth coffee with a bittersweet taste and chocolate overtones. Stop in some day and try a cup. Leave with a bag of beans for future consumption.
Credit: Thomas Farley