Italian Espresso vs. American Espresso

July 28, 2009

Why does espresso taste different in Italy than in the US?

Is it the scenic countryside, the renaissance artwork, the legacy of the Medicis.. um, no.

It's because Italians prefer a totally different taste in their espresso than do Americans.  And it shows up in the coffee, according to top roasters and travelers that I've spoken with.

/wp/wp-content/uploads/files/uploads/108893821_feebed7db1_m.jpg" alt="Italian Espresso" title="Italian Espresso" align="right" border="0" height="240" hspace="10" vspace="10" width="240" />You see, Italians have always preferred an ashy charred burnt taste to their espresso.  They want it to taste like diesel fuel.  They want to douse it with sugar cubes.  They want it to put hair on their chest.   Americans on the other hand love smoothness, mildness, and a balanced espresso drink, preferably where they can add some milk and sugar, not too much, thank you.

Therefore Italian espressos served in Italy use robusta beans for up to 20% of the coffee.  That is the cheaper bean that imparts a charred ashy taste.  Italians think it's god-sent, Americans think it's like biting into mud.  Americans prefer all Arabica beans that are more expensive and milder.   Also Italians are okay with cheap beans from Brazil, India and Vietnam that give a dark ashy taste.   Those countries have low altitude and at least in Brazil and India there is a lot of grassland -- ideal breeding grounds for unremarkable coffee.  (You need mountains, valleys, hills, volcanic soil, richness to make a rich coffee). 

Americans on the other hand want a milder delicate flavor so a wider mix of high quality beans from Africa, Indonesia and the Americas are used.  Higher quality beans too.

This difference in tastes has given me some weird interactions with Italian roasters.

Typically at a trade show an Italian roaster will insist that his Italian espresso is fabulous, with the authentic taste of Italy that you can't get anywhere else.  I agree with him / her that you can't get the taste like that anywhere in the US -- because Americans want a different taste than theirs.   The Italian roasters just don't get it.  They can't understand why someone would prefer a different taste.  They keep pushing their coffees and I keep telling them that my customers may be unhappy with the ashy heap of soot they'll get.

Sample some of our espressos.  You'll see how delicate the flavors are.  That's because they're ideal for American tastes.   Soon we'll have some of these Italian roasters' coffees and you'll be able to compare.  But you've been warned!


Paradise Roaster's terrific and top-rated Espresso Classico

In Sonoma Valley, Ecco Caffe's Dark Roast Espresso Blend was awarded top price in 2007 by CoffeeGeek versus Italian espressos

In Seattle, Cafe D'Arte has won several awards for its Capri Espresso Blend including best espresso in Seattle ina  reader's poll.

Latitude 32.5's Espresso Havana is a great coffee from an up-and-coming roaster with a national reputation.

Photo credit:  PSD on Flickr


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