Thanks to an invitation from Gennaro of the Italian Trade Commission, I had the chance to sit down for 20 minutes with Carlo Odello of Italian Tasters for a look at the fine points of Caffe Italia on Sunday, June 27 during the Summer Fancy Food Show.
I knew right away that Carlo was the right person to talk to as you could feel his passion for the subject.
The Italian Espresso National Institute is not there to sell but rather set a standard of taste with its Certified Italian Espresso stamp of approval.
The association makes sure its 43 members live up to its standards and helps train Baristas in Italy and abroad on the steps to a heavenly coffee.
7 of the members were present at the show, namely Torrefazione Saturno, La Genovese, Filicori and Zecchini, Mokarico,
Caffen, Zicaffè and Torrefazione Paranà.
Italy counts around 700 coffee roasters.
Each region has its style and preferences and Carlo noted that in most cases, a coffee aficionado from one region would not like what another region has to offer.
I then asked Carlo a few questions on the Italian espresso etiquette and approach.
Q: Carlo, which are the most common Negative and Positive Odors regarding Coffee?
Positive: Roasted, Chocolate, Bread, Spicy, Flowery, Fruity
Negative: Earth, Wood, Rubber, Burnt, Pharmacy
Q: Is there a standard 'pour' (size) for a single espresso?
It's 25 mls +/- 10% (0.84 fl oz +/- 10%)
Q: Amongst your members, how many use fair trade and/or organic beans and have adopted green practices?
Some of them have, although it is not so common in Italy compared to the US.
Q: We tasted La Genovese and Zicaffe, in what ways does a Roman coffee differs from both?
Instead of profiling a single brand, I think it would be better to provide your readers with the official sensory profile:
On sight, a Certified Espresso Italiano has a hazel-brown to dark - brown foam – characterised by tawny reflexes – with a very fine texture (absence of large mesh and larger or smaller bubbles). The nose reveals an intense scent with notes of flowers, fruits, toasted bread and chocolate. All of these sensations are felt also after swallowing the coffee in the long lasting aroma that remains for several seconds, sometimes even for minutes. Its taste in round, substantial and velvet-like. Sour and bitter tastes are well balanced and neither one prevails over the other. There is no, or a barely perceptible, astringent taste.
Q: Could you refresh my memory on the 4 to 6 origins used in an Italian coffee blend and the reason why?
There is not a determined number of origins, in any case Italian coffee roasters usually use at least 4 origins. Each coffee used provides the blend with specific aromas, this means getting a more complete aromatic profile.
Q: Biggest challenge you met training people abroad in the Italian Caffe Way?
There's no challenge, actually. They usually are very interested in the Italian espresso, it is up to us Italians to spread the word about it.
Q: Are some countries adopting this style of coffee with more ease than others?
Japan loves our way of making coffee, as they are really passionate about Italy.
Q: If you order an espresso or any other type of coffee will the
barista or the server offer sugar or will you have to request it?
You have sugar on the counter and can take it. In Naples some baristas pour sugar in the cup for you.
Q: Cappuccino, when, where, with what food?
In Italy we have cappuccino for breakfast, just along with a croissant.
I hope this keeps us all out of trouble if and when we visit Italy.
It reminded me that standards do not mean one size fits all as local taste still has its place.
Carlo Odello is also co-author of the very instructive guide 'Espresso Italian Tasting' (in Italian and English) Number 8 in L'assaggio-Taste collection published by International Institute of Coffee Tasters.