Strong. Dark. Bold. And a staple of modern-day Italy.
During my time in northern Italy just after I published my Italy guidebook, I had the distinct pleasure of touring and tasting at a balsamic vinegar producer, eating real bolognese sauce outside Bologna with a couple other bloggers, and, notably, being guided through an espresso tasting by an expert–Manuel Terzi of Caffe Terzi.
The most important thing to know about espresso is that there are essentially two types of beans. The first, called Robusta, are sharper and more oily. They’re usually dark-roasted because the more you roast a bean, the more you hide its original flavor. And since Robusta beans don’t have the best original flavor, roasters spend their time trying to hide it.
The second and more desirable bean type is the Arabica, which brew smoother and richer. This is the bean you want to look for if you want the best espresso experience.
The second important thing to know is that refined sugar masks the flavor of espresso, while raw sugar enhances it. Manuel Terzi recommends trying the espresso without sugar first and then adding raw sugar to good 100% Arabica bean espresso to get the full experience.
Finally, he adds that when searching for the best espresso in town, it’s a good idea to look at the espresso machines. Machines with small filters mask the flavor of the espresso and are a good indicator that a shop is buying cheap coffee. Machines with large filters, on the other hand, let the flavor through and are your best bet.
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