The Art of the Italian Coffee

May 7th, 2018toDecember 7th, 2019

by Ellie Rosa (Stanford University)

As any true coffee lover will tell you, Italian coffees are known as some of the best in the world. From the daily espresso, to the artfully crafted lattes, Italians value the delicacy and depth of each individual sip of coffee. What does it take to note the differences in aromas, flavors, and qualities of an Italian coffee? Determined to appreciate coffee on the Italian level, I set out to improve my knowledge by taking a Discovery Coffee Course at the famed Espresso Academy.

Espresso Academy is located on the outskirts of Florence and boasts of course options ranging from professional barista courses, to introductory coffee aficionado classes, such as the discovery course in which I participated. My teacher at the Academy, Robert, had studied the art of coffee at the most highly rated schools for coffee enthusiasts in Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia. Robert and I quickly realized that no one else had signed up for the discovery course that I was in, and thus I was immersed in three hours of one-on-one training on the world of plant-growth, harvesting, roasting, packaging, home brewing and the art of the espresso and cappuccino.

Espresso Academy is a branch of the Mokaflor coffee brand. Mokaflor is known as the prime coffee provider in Florence and the classes for Espresso Academy are held at the Mokaflor factory. Because of this throughout the class when Robert was explaining the differences in Arabica and Robusta coffee, or how to spot the defective coffee beans in unroasted product, he was able to take me to the back of the factory where I could see the process in action. There were sacks of raw coffee beans ready to begin their journey to the cup, and massive roasting machines that buzzed as they worked the beans, emitting the intoxicating aroma of freshly roasted coffee.

Fresh Coffee Beans

Unsorted Beans

For the second part of the class, Robert and I took the freshly roasted coffee beans and headed upstairs to use Mokaflor’s state of the art espresso machine. We were ready to explore the intricacies of creating a balanced espresso and a perfect cappuccino. I learned how to ensure that the coffee beans were ground properly, that their was consistency in the weight of the coffe being put into the machine, and how to time the creation of the coffee so that it would emerge with a perfect frothy layer on the top. We then tasted our espressos to experience the bitterness, the acidity, and the fruity notes that came with different species of coffee. As someone whose very profession revolves around tasting coffee, Robert was able to detect everything from hints of strawberry to tangs of lemon in each individual espresso. At first I struggled to use any descriptors beyond “bitter” or “strong,” but by the time I was a few espressos in (and significantly more alert!) I began to notice the details that Robert was so focused on. Each espresso had different textures and tastes depending on how exactly it was crafted. This became even more obvious as we moved into the cappuccino section of the class. Here I learned how to froth milk to a silky perfection and how to pour it in a “just so” fashion to create beautiful creamy designs over the golden brown of each cappuccino. Robert explained how cappuccinos created with milk that has just been frothed, versus milk that has been left out for a few minutes or more, can mean the difference between a foamy tasteless drink and a smooth, perfect combination of milk and coffee.

The three hour class flew by and by the end of it all my amazement at the work and knowledge that goes into a single Italian coffee had expanded incredibly. Italian coffee, I realized, is a journey of sensory attention and also a demonstration of a cultural value regarding quality. It became clear to me through this course that the daily café of the average Italian is much more than an espresso shot to kick-start the morning. Coffee in Italy is a way of expressing care for every moment in life. Each carefully crafted coffee drink says “here is a drink of time, thought and love that will bring you joy,” and this is something everyone can appreciate, no matter how much they know about coffee.

 

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