A few years ago we rented a flat in Rome near the Spanish Steps. We were just a few shiny cobblestoned feet from Chanel, Dior, Prada, Max Mara and the like on the Via Condotti. Shopping was of course on the itinerary (and I did my fair share) but in Rome you are there to immerse yourself in the culture. You are there to let Rome take over. You are there not to be a tourist, but to breathe in the Eternal City. And so we did...
We drank in all of the art we could. We gasped at the perfection of ancient architecture. We listened to string quartets in spectacular chapels by moonlight. We people watched. We took more lovely photographs that I can count. We lost ourselves on meandering streets and fully embraced the Roman experience.
Our days were varied, but there was one constant: coffee. There are cafes to be found everywhere you look, but where's the fun in being one of a dozen tourists? That wasn't our approach to Rome. We were focused on exploration and the discovery of hidden treasures. Family owned hideaways that offered up aromatic cups of rich espresso. Tiny little spots that featured world-class gelato. Small boutiques locals hoped you'd never find. Fantastic restaurants with not an English speaking person in sight. This was our quest. And through it all we sipped some of the finest espresso we've ever enjoyed.
For many years, a caffeine-fueled competition has been raging between two coffee purveyors. There are those who stake their reputation on the belief that espresso from revered Sant’ Eustachio is in fact il meglio. Contender Tazza D'Oro near the Pantheon has earned an equally dedicated a cult following, some going so far to claim that the water itself contains sugar - lending the espresso its hallmark sweetness.
Throughout our stay, we repeatedly put the two cafes to the test. In the end, we determined that it is impossible to call a winner due to their significant differences. After all, why love only one when so many fantastic options abound?
Sant' Eustachio wins hands down for ambiance and romance. It is an experience worth having. You order. You sit. You enjoy. You pay a handsome bill for the privilege to do so, but you leave satisfied in knowing that you created lasting memories in those high-gloss booths with solicitous waitstaff buzzing around.
Tazza D'Oro on the other hand, had energy only a city cafe can offer. Always filled with eager patrons awaiting their turn at the bar, this cafe was less about sitting and more about competing to get your spot in line before zipping off on your Vespa to parts unknown. The small cafe was always bustling with patrons awaiting their cup of caffeinated perfection.
While I'm inclined to say this spot might have had better coffee, you had little time to savor it. It was all about the hustle and bustle of Romans speeding about on their way to someplace seemingly far more important. There was no "La Dolce Vita" vibe here. It was get in, get your amazing cup of perfect espresso and get on with your fabulous day. Sant' Eustachio, was more about taking in the moment and breathing in the city. A "winner" would be impossible to choose, given their entirely different qualities.
Like the great city of Rome itself, we found joy and beauty in the variety. There were so many great characteristics of each cafe, each drink and their requisite charming baristas that to consider one to be the victor would be robbing ourselves of great memories of both. The romantic in me, however, feels the Sant' Eustachio experience recaptures that Roman holiday like nothing else. If I could close my eyes and click my high-heeled feet three times and be transported somewhere, that would certainly be a prime spot to choose.
Fast forward to today and we still dislike drinking coffee from paper cups. Blame it on the weeks long experience of drinking it as God intended it: seconds after the shot was pulled into a crisp white ceramic cup on a saucer and handed to you by a handsome Italian. Although I'm not too proud to sip my cappuccinos in the afternoon too (a major faux pas abroad), I consider my coffee palate to be refined. I am an espresso purist, always seeking that perfect crema on top of rich shot (or two) of espresso.
The closest I've come to recreating that rich coffee experience is Nespresso's "Roma" varietal. It is an exceptional shot of espresso. Smooth, eep and rich - not bitter. Since waking up in Rome isn't my present reality, I'll gladly sip from my demitasse here in Dallas. No euros or tipping required.
I have good news for you, dear readers... in the coming week I'll be announcing a partnership with Nespresso. One lucky winner will receive a brand new Nespresso machine to create their own Roman Holiday right at home. Details to follow, but until then start thinking about what coffee means to you and how you might enjoy having a little taste of Rome this season.