Even though Italy does not produce coffee, espresso has become one of the symbols of the much-coveted “Made in Italy” lifestyle worldwide. Indeed, it has become a popular specialty that is often copied, often unsuccessfully, by others. Although they are called espresso, these concoctions have nothing that resembles the original, thus undermining espresso’s true essence.
On July 6, 1998, after a three-year research effort performed by the International Institute of Coffee Tasters and the Tasters Foundation in collaboration with the professors of the universities of Udine and Torino, the National Institute of Italian Espresso (INEI) was founded with the purpose to protect and promote espresso’s pedigree.
In less than a year, the Institute developed a system to identify original Italian espresso. As a consequence, more and more bars and coffeehouses now have to showcase the Espresso Italiano logo to assure their clients that they’re serving the real thing.
In order to obtain the right to show the logo and serve Espresso Italiano, bar owners must follow these rules:
* Use a certified blend.
* Purchase certified equipment (machines and grinders).
* Employ trained personnel.
Only those who comply with these guidelines can claim to be making real Espresso Italiano DOC. At the moment more than a thousand bars throughout Italy sport the esteemed logo, and the number is rapidly growing.
In order to better understand the qualities of authentic Espresso Italiano, let’s take a closer look at the details.
Certified Italian espresso is prepared following the rules of the INEI: it must be made with a blend of toasted beans of diverse origin, freshly grounded, and prepared in a specific way in order to have certain organoleptic characteristics.
The coffee’s appearance must be a hazelnut-colored cream with tawny streaks and no bubbles. It must have an intense and lasting aroma with some hint of flowers, fruit, toasted bread, and chocolate. On the palate it is round and velvety, with a good balance between acidity and bitterness.
Espresso Italiano is, by definition and tradition, made with a superior combination of coffees of different origin. That’s the only way to achieve its pleasant aromatic richness and full body. The difference between an Italian espresso and a coffee prepared by the same method but made with only one kind of coffee is comparable to the difference between a symphony and the concert of a soloist. Which is better is clearly an objective preference, but certainly they are two different things.
Of course the bartender preparing the coffee must have a certain expertise and knowledge. He chooses and uses the machines and the blends to make the best espresso possible. To that end, INEI offers several training classes available to all professionals.
Following the establishment of these standards, another staple of Italian coffeehouses has been seeking its own seal of quality: cappuccino. Indeed, this past year a motion was presented to the Italian government and was recently approved. The debut of Cappuccino DOC is scheduled for February 10 and 11, 2008, in Rimini during the popular Trade Fair Pianeta Birra Beverage & Co.
INEI’s studies show that high-quality, traditional cappuccino is made with 25 ml (.8 oz.) of certified Italian espresso and 125 ml (about 4 oz.) of milk warmed with steam from a temperature of 5°C (41°F) to 55°C (131°F). Always, the milk must be poured over the espresso and served in a cup of about 150 ml (about 5 oz.).
The look of authentic cappuccino is a brown circle with white foam in the middle. Often this foam is marked by brownish streaks and small decorations prepared by the bartender. The foam has very small, almost invisible, bubbles. Its aroma offers hints of flowers but mostly of warm milk, toasted caramel, chocolate, and dried fruit. Its body is full and rich with a well-balanced acidity.
Avoid these common mistakes when preparing cappuccino: Always clean the machine and always use fresh milk, not reuse the leftovers from previous brews. The milk should be simply warmed up, not brought to a boil, and must be poured after the coffee, not before. Another important point: the espresso must be of high quality to assure the cappuccino’s excellence.
By Natasha Lardera
Photo credit: Silvia Forni