Here come the Italian espressos

June 28, 2009

Hi from the Fancy Food Show in New York City!

Mixed in among the hundreds of vendors of charcuterie, smoothie drinks, chocolate, and every manner of food and beverage at America's largest food show were many coffee & tea suppliers.

And one trend is clear: here come the Italian espresso brands.

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Just when you thought espresso was fading and that brewed coffee was becoming more popular thanks to uber-roasters like Intelligentsia Coffee (Chicago), CounterCulture (North Carolina) and Stumptown (Portland), ESPRESSO'S BACK.

There were amazing espressos being pulled by Italian companies that are keen to get a foothold in the American market.  You've probably never heard of them -- Caffe Trombetta, Caffe Mokambo, Il Caffe Sant' Eustachio, Esse Cafe, Caffe Sacco,  Morganti, Hausbrandt (yes, that's Italian) among them.

Every one said that they're looking for US distributors, and every one is interested in selling through

They are basically household names back home in Italy but they're not yet popular here.  Drinking these coffees, you feel like you're in an Italian cafe -- a good one, I mean, with great coffee.

The coffees range in style from a very strong crema and mild flavor (Il Caffe Sant Eustachio, Esse Cafe) to liquid molasses-in-a-leaf-of-tobacco (Caffe Mokambo).  Some felt very balanced (Caffe Trombetta) while others felt like they'd wake a sleeping elephant (Morganti).

A very interesting one was Esse Cafe that had an incredible floral aroma like a bunch of hibiscus and honeysuckle.  Drinking it, the floral aroma disappears because of the overpowering licorice, earthiness, and just enough bitterness to let you know it's an espresso.  Sort of like picking a dainty flower and finding a raging bull with smoking nostrils behind it.

Interesting to note that none of these roasters (maybe 10 in all) knew the difference between a Southern Italian Roast and a Northern Italian Roast.  (Southern Italian roasts tend to be darker and more syrupy because they use less expensive beans -- including a higher percent of robusta beans; Northern Italian roasts are lighter because they use more expensive beans to accommodate higher incomes in the North).  All the roasters would say is "We're from Roma!"  or "We are famous in Trieste!"  I suppose that's the equivalent of a pizzeria saying "we're from Chicago!"  or "We're from New York" and assuming you know the difference between deep-dish and flat pizza.   

All these roasters also claimed that they're "very well balanced" which isn't true.  Some of these coffees open with a big bang of ash and bitter and licorice and blackstrap molasses and then dissappear.  Others linger much longer with a wide variety of flavors including  vanilla, brown sugar, caramel, nut and hops.  

So it seems that at a time when American brewers like Intelli and CounterCulture are obsessing over brewed coffee in order to win more coffee competitions, the Italian roasters are headed in a totally different direction towards finer espresso.

I can't wait for us to carry these coffees, and you should sample them!  

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