Expresso, or more correctly espresso, is to other kinds of coffee as rocket fuel is to coal. Or vodka to beer. A Ferrari to a Morris Minor. It is powerful stuff, designed to really give you a caffeine kick and wake you up in the morning.
It might look and sound like it should be bitter and harsh, but when done correctly – and trust me, the Italians know how – it is anything but. It is rich, aromatic and truly delicious… as well as being highly addictive!
The best espresso is made in the many bars that line the streets of any Italian town or city, and can be recognised by a slightly sweet smell, a thick, almost syrupy texture as it pours, and the slight crema or light foam which forms on the surface, as can be seen in this photo:
This coffee is so good that sugar is optional: I tend to use a little myself but not always, and you should never use so much that it masks the flavour of the coffee. If you find yourself having to add lots of sugar to make it drinkable, it is probably slightly burnt, or made from old beans – not good!
Italians take their coffee very seriously, and opinions on how to make espresso vary across Italy, with the coffee tending to be shorter in the South and longer in the North. In my opinion, the very best, most aromatic coffee in the country comes from Naples and the surrounding area. The coffee above was made in the bar beneath my house in Salerno, the Boccanegra. It is a beautiful, slightly retro bar with an awesome espresso machine, and lovely staff – I go there at least once a day when I’m home.
So don’t be scared to try Italian espresso, it really is delicious… just don’t try it after 6pm if you value your sleep – it packs a punch!