SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
Yes, you know the coffee is going to be better when you get to Italy. And you’ve done enough research to assure yourself that you’ll be able to order a cappuccino or macchiato to help you get over jet lag. But once you’ve done the basic, here are three very specific coffee treats that you may not know about, from three centrally located coffee bars in Rome.
Try as they might, no one has ever been able to discover the secret to Sant’Eustachio’s coffee, which many consider to be the best in town. So protective are the baristas that each cup is pulled at the machine behind a steel barrier, far from curious eyes. What makes it so smooth and rich with a full head of foam? Some say it’s the water; some it’s a pinch of bicarbonate. The heaping teaspoon of sugar doesn’t hurt (make sure to say non zuccherato if you don’t want yours sweet.)
For the indulgent there is the house specialty: caffe doppio con panna, a double dose of espresso with whipped cream.
Piazza Sant'Eustachio, Rome
Where to get the best coffee in Rome? Everyone has their favorite, but at the very top of the bunch there is Sant' Eustachio (above) and Tazza D’Oro.
Tazza D’oro has a lot going for it, not least of which is the decoration: slightly inappropriate reliefs showing a half clad ‘native’ girl harvesting coffee. But it's the coffee that draws the crowds. And there are always crowds, who stand in line to pay and then elbow their way up to the counter to sip tiny cups of freshly roasted and ground espresso. Tazza D’oro is a torrefazione, which means they roast their own beans almost every day. You can visit the roasting set up in the back, and buy a bag of beans - ground or whole - to take away.
This is by far the very best granita di cafe in town. They used to only serve it in summer, but now it’s offered all year round (mostly thanks to tourists but that’s ok). The granita is kept in tubs, beneath the counter, and is scooped into small cups by the barista. You will be asked about the whipped cream - panna - situation. The traditional way to have it is with freshly whipped cream, piled into the bottom of the cup as well as slathered on top. I like to ask for mine ‘solo sotto’, only on the bottom, and then mush it all together with my spoon for a creamy, coffee slushy treat.
Via degli Orfani 84, Rome
You’d think that a shot of coffee with a scoop of gelato would be pretty easy to find in Italy, but it’s not. Most gelaterie don’t serve coffee, and most coffee bars don’t serve gelato. So to find the two together is sort of like the search for the holy grail.
Don’t worry. I’ve done the ground work for you.
After you’ve visited the Pantheon and Piazza Navona (because you’re going to be doing that if you are going to Rome, right?) head down the street to Fiocco di Neve. Now, here’s the hard part (are you listening?): don’t be distracted by the big display of about 20 flavors of gelato in the refrigerated case when you walk in. Stay strong. Keep going and head to the back of the small shop, to the coffee counter.
Ask for an Affogato di Zabaione. You will then be asked if you’d like piccolo (small) , media (medium) or grande (large). From personal experience I always order small, which I find is the best coffee to gelato ratio.
The rest is as you’d expect. Pure heaven. Although you can have an Affogato with any flavor of gelato, the Zabaione at Fiocco di Neve is the only way to go for many reasons. First of all it’s extremely creamy and rich, and stands up to the bitterness of the coffee. Also? It’s packed full of true Marsala wine. In other words, it’s really boozy, in a very good way. The combination of booze, cream, sweet and bitter will make you cry.
Also, since you ordered a small, it’s ok (kind of) to order another one.
Via del Pantheon 51
Daily 10-10. (open till midnight on Saturday)
I’ve been eating my way through Rome since I was 12 years old. After living here as a child I moved back in 1988, and have been exploring Italy’s culture and mouthwatering cuisine ever since. I am the author of 7 books, and have written for over 40 publications. I now write about all things delicious, paying homage to the city and country that feeds me, on my blog, Elizabeth Minchilli in Rome and in my best-selling app, Eat Italy. My most recent book, Eating Rome, is available online and in bookstores.