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Saturday, March 6, 2010

RST Top 40. #23: Sant'Eustachio Caffe



Last time we were at the Sant'Eustachio coffee bar, we noticed a yellowed clipping, probably from the 1970s, of Henry Kissinger having a coffee there. We've never thought of Henry as a foodie, but after all those late-night, never-ending negotiations to end wars (the Christmas bombing in Vietnam in 1973 was a nice touch) he may be an expert on a good cup of coffee. Or perhaps we've just underestimated Henry. Just maybe, we thought, since he knew about Sant'Eustachio, he might be versed in other hip, Rome-the-Second-Time activities. We fantasized about a funky Henry Kissinger Rome Itinerary, rivaling Jack Kerouac's 1954 (we made that last part up). Alas, a lengthy search on google provided no evidence that Henry had been anywhere else in the Eternal City. Maybe he just flew in for the coffee.

That isn't as absurd as it might seem. Since its founding in 1928, people have said some amazing things about the coffee, if not the place. Most often quoted is William Grimes, who once wrote for the New York Times: "When the need for a real espresso becomes overpowering, buy a ticket to Rome, tell the taxi driver to head straight for the Sant'Eustachio Caffe. The espresso will be perfect. A little expensive, but surely worth the trouble." That's probably what Henry did.

A little expensive, to be sure, especially if you sit at one of the small white tables outside. So we don't normally go there without a good reason, usually to touch base with our friend Luca, who works for the Italian Senate in a building that's about 50 feet away. We get coffee and bottled water and play catch-up, all for about E15. We pay the bill and Luca does the ordering; we're on his turf. He knows (as the yellow sign says) that if you want your coffee without sugar, you have to order it that way.

Besides the coffee, what's so good about Sant'Eustachio? The view from the tables outside is nothing exceptional, although it does feature the curious facade of the Sant'Eustachio church, with the classic symbol of the saint's miracle: seeing the stag with his antlers in the shape of a cross. The interior is small and smells great (they're roasting on the premises) and has the patina of a place that's been around for decades. And we never fail to find gifts there for our American friends: mugs (small by our standards), bowls, chocolate-covered coffee beans--and of course, the 100% Arabica itself.

Being a purist, and not wanting to corrupt the moment, Henry probably just threw down his espresso and had the taxi return him to Air Force 1.

Bill

1 comment:

tarrant said...

One interesting thing about the Sant'Eustacchio bar is that the counter is extra high: the customers can't see what's going on when the baristas make the milk go frothy in that unique way. Rumours are that they mix something in the milk – but that may of course only be the talk of envious competitors.
For regular espresso, try the Tazza d'Oro close to the Pantheon!