Rating: Standard, without the fluf you’re left with normal Roman coffee
Here’s the place that needs no introduction. Just google Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè and you’ll get hundreds of reviews, and I would bet nearly all of them claim the glory and greatness of this café. Ok, good. We’ve read that. And if you’ve been here, you might have been enticed to think the same. Hell, back in the day when I first came here, I thought it was good. If the NY Times says its good, then of course it ‘has to be good’ no? Let’s see what we think today. And you know I won’t agree!I
t is supposedly, and if everybody says so then it is ‘de facto’, Rome’s greatest coffee bar. So from here we should learn about what the hell it is indeed that a ‘Roman’ coffee is. The place is nonchalance and as a typical Roman laissez faire attitude to its business. If it’s sloppy, well that’s the way it’s ‘supposed to be’. This is the motto that seems to prevail in a lot of places here in Rome.
Asking for a coffee gets you a question in return, ‘with sugar or without’ so let’s do without I say, and let’s move towards debunking this myth:
Presentation: Here I took the photo after sticking in the spoon to see if the darned thing would stand straight in the thick crema. No water served, but they do give it if you ask.
Temperature of Cup: Ok temperature, a bit on the cold side actually!
Quantity: well, if I can see through this crema, I can peek at a short espresso. It’s a big cup, so I’m glad its short.
Temperature: After peeking at the coffee through the crema, the coffee itself was a bit cold…
Volume/Consistency: Well, again after peeking through the crema, the coffee itself was watery, not thick.
Crema: Eccola! Here’s the ‘trick’ that Sant’Eustachio has up its sleeve. Knowing a bit about ‘crema di caffè’ we can understand what is going on here.
But first we need to see and ‘hear’ how they procure an espresso at Sant’Eustchio. When you get the question of sugar or not, here’s the actual reason, because behind the screen there on the Astoria machine, the one that blocks your view of how the espresso is extracted (yes, they say to safeguard the family secret of their ‘brew’), they actually have two pots full of ‘crema di caffè’ pre-made: one with sugar, another without.
Look at the side of the machine, how you can’t see what they’re doing:
So here’s the order of events: You ask for espresso, they pour a regular shot of espresso (on quite dead beans), then they add a spoonful of crema to it (sugar or without) and then, funny enough, you hear them frantically stirring the cup (yes your cup, even if you as without sugar!) to make sure the crema on it looks even and not poured into the cup.
Here’s the proof:
As you can see, the crema is an ‘after product’. It has none of the consistency, nor any of the properties a regular espresso extracted crema has. As you can see, it can even be eaten by the spoonful!!
Odor: So after this, not much of an aromatic experience to their espresso. Quite surprising since they supposedly roast their own beans on the premises- and supposedly the ‘crema’ is a result of using real wood to roast their beans! Yes… of course….
Taste: Well, it was a watery espresso down there, and it was bitter, but not rancid, it was OK, nothing out of this world.
Overall: I would say that if you remove the ‘hype’ and the post-extraction production to the espresso, what remains is a normal, run-of-the-mill Roman espresso. That is, a fairly dark roast, strong, short espresso that borders on rancid. With this said, their espresso is, essentially, an espresso with ‘crema di caffè’ added on top. Simple as that.
The setup: They use semiautomatic Astoria machines. If you go to Sant’Eustachio’s website, you’ll see they used to use Faema lever machines… maybe that was the trick back in the day, a ‘real’ crema caffè, but as these group-heads from a 2nd machine under repair show, they are doing what everybody else does. And they don’t seem to be using filtered water (see the hard-water on the pvc pipes there), so indeed, it does seem that the ‘recipe’ does include ‘native Roman water’!
As you can see, they’ve cordoned off all the views into the magic factory.
So although they do roast their own beans, and these can be readily purchased, I refrained from doing a test on them because the coffee they served was simply so ordinary. We’re not going to get a Third Wave coffee experience here, we’re going to get what we got at every other place: dark roasted, old beans, that pack a punch but don’t have much finesse. Nothing wrong with that, simply no need to waste my time to confirm it.
Oh and by the way, if you decide to have an espresso outside, and not at the bar, be ready to pay a lot for your experience…
Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè S.R.L
Piazza S. Eustachio, 82