Ciao, Illy

Since it’s the end of the week, or depending on when you’re reading this, it’s the beginning of the week, I thought I’d finish up with some of my last images and thoughts from my time hosted by Illy coffee in Trieste.

Barista

Without a doubt the most popular person in Trieste is the barista at Illy’s coffee bar for the employees. From the moment we arrived first thing in the morning to the time we left at the end of the afternoon (with several visits in between), this woman was pumping out espressos (espressi) for the entire staff. For those who worked in the roasting plant, there were machines down there, as well as on each floor of the office building too.

She worked with grace under pressure, and without a tip jar, as swarms of people would come in and line up at the bar, order a quick shot, then head back to work with a quick ciao before departing. As you might imagine, after lunch is particularly busy and although the counter was stacked with used cups and saucers, she calmly worked through the rush. She is a true craftsperson and barista and my dream is to work alongside her one day, although I don’t think I could possibly keep up. Mama mia, does this woman work hard!

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I loved the displays of vintage Illy memorabilia they had everywhere. Since I have a soft spot for anything from the 1950′s-70′s, these cans in particular caught my eye. With an obvious nod to Peter Max, I suggested they re-issue coffee in these cans, as well as some of the older ones. I think they’d be pretty popular today, don’t you think? I know I’d want one.

Unfortunately they didn’t take my not-so-subtle hints.

Trieste CapMilk Foam

Although I’m not a big fan of milk-based coffee drinks, if you do order a cappuchino in Trieste, you’ll be served a small, clear glass with a bit of steamed milk on top, which is called a ‘Trieste Cappuchino’. It reminds me of the café cortado one enjoys in Spain. We also had a lesson in frothing milk, since some Belgian journalists who’d arrived weren’t as fond of pounding-down multiple shots of espresso like I was.

Foam DesignGinders and Tampers

Michele Pauletic, the barista for my class, demonstrated how to make designs with steamed milk. Many baristas, especially in America, prefer to use low-fat milk for their foam. Not necessarily for dietary reasons but because of the protein solids. But Michele said he preferred whole milk simply because of the taste. And as you can see (above left) he didn’t have any problems making lovely patterns. His trick was to sprinkle the top of the espresso first with a bit of powdered chocolate to get the foam to ‘stick’ and with a bit of razzle-dazzle, he produced some lovely designs.

Coffee TastingSpittoon

I’d never seen a coffee spittoon (above right), but you probably haven’t either. So that’s what one looks like…and now neither one of us can say that anymore. We did several coffee and ‘flavor’ tastings, using an official coffee-tasting spoon, made of heavy-duty stainless steel with a deep well that you fill just halfway up before you slurp up a taste.

Various liquids and coffees were lined up and we learned to discern flavors that were found in coffee: Bitter, sweet, sour, and neutral nuances. Salty was also added as well. I didn’t use the spittoon, but like the rest of the room, it was sure pretty impressive. Those Italians are the masters at designing things with great aplomb. Even if it’s for the purpose of something rather undecorative.

When I left, with my own personal coffee-tasting spoon in hand (and a few cans of coffee to stash in my suitcase as well), I was impressed by what I had seen and how much I’d learned about coffee during my time in Trieste. I’m not planning a career change yet to become a barista, but each cup of espresso I’ve extracted at home ever since has been a lesson and a revelation to me.

One tiny cup exuding so much rich, intense flavor has become my afternoon ritual around here. And hopefully some of you have become more interested and enlightened along with me as well.

Ciao

Sign

Useful Web Addresses

Some of my Coffee-Lovers Picks are where you can a few suggestions for my favorite tools for coffee and espresso preparation.

Illy A Casa: Home coffee and espresso delivery which includes substantial discount on a Francis!Francis! espresso maker.

A good guide to coffee preparation, customized towards your particular coffee-maker. And I’ve found TheShot to be a particularly good source of advice too.

University of Coffee: Illy’s school for coffee connoisseurs and barista training.

You can visit an Espressamente shop in many European cities, including the one in Paris at 13, rue Auber, adjacent to the Opéra Garnier.

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16 comments

  • Sounds heavenly. Great photos too!

    -L

  • Thanks for all this info! I have enjoyed it very much and just maybe I shall get one of these machines. I have to say I am a decaf only for nearly 22 years now. Heart problems… So can it still be as good with decaf?

  • Great piece as always, D! I’d totally get one of the re-issued illy cans if they were available

  • I totally appreciate how appreciative you are of the Illy Barista woman in your post! I was a barista for a while in a one-horse town where we were the only source of espresso drinks and the morning rush was INSANE. Deep, intense pressure vibes coming from the addicts who needed a fix before they could carry on. (Americans are SO impatient! It’s ridiculous.) A Zen mastery of working calmly at lightspeed is required. I always felt like a very close relative of Yoda dueling with a light saber when I worked. Also, I could not have done it without the tip jar.

  • Your stories about Trieste and Illy are wonderful! I’m so happy when a foreign guy is able to perfectly understand the details about our (Italian) way of life!
    Thanks!

  • And the food, David, the food! Did you eat any wonderful food before slamming down all those loaded thimbles of Illy? And before you change the Illy coffee canister, it is an invaluable part of my tool room on the barge- perfect for holding bolts, screws, leftover paint, etc… God Bless Ita-lly!

  • Sandy: I’ve had terrific decaf espresso that tastes just like the caffeinated stuff. You should go to a very good coffee place where you live (a very good one-not one that specializes in drinks with whipped cream & caramel piled on top, but true espresso) and order a decaf espresso. Perhaps for the first time, add more sugar than you might think prudent (it’s okay, since you’re not drinking whipped cream!)

    Then taste it. Is it good? You may need to get used to drinking espresso if you normally drink regular coffee, which is like eating dark chocolate if you’ve only eaten milk chocolate. They’re both different beasts. And espresso has a fraction of the caffeine of brewed coffee.

    (Here’s a ‘Caffeine Calculator’ for the truly addicted…AYOR!)

    Very soon I’m going to have a post about what to look for in buying espresso and an espresso-maker. Stay tuned…

    Kate. As mentioned, the food was just okay in Trieste. But the coffee (and gelato) were amazing!

    Sara: Grazie!

    Broderick: Yes, I don’t know why they don’t re-issue them. They certainly caught me eye. (I’m so good at doling out free advice…)

    Just like when I went to visit the KitchenAid factory and saw their mixers from the 50′s, which the metal fins, I’m certain a re-issue would be a smashing success.

    Elarel: One of the hardest things I think for us Americans to get used to is not expecting service to be lightening-fast. And to wait for things. Some folks get miffed at the ‘bad’ service, but don’t realize most restaurants and cafes don’t have a huge staff of busboys, waiters, runners, etc…so why not relax?

    At the Illy cafe, no one was tapping the counter impatiently. And believe me, the espresso was worth waiting for. Also 95% of the people order regular espresso so there was no whipped cream, chocolate sprinkles, or half-caf-soy-chai lattes to contend with.

    And I say: Get rid of those tip jars, raise the price of coffee, and compensate those hardworking baristas adequately!

  • Hi David – I’m one of the many ghost readers who often visit your blog and enjoy reading your witty posts.
    It is monday morning and I think I would enjoy a nice, rich cup of espresso too. Waiting for your next post when you’re back in Paris.
    Keep up the good work!

  • Thanks for these posts on coffee, I love excellent espresso, but it’s so hard to find. I’m with you on losing the tip jar (pay people a living wage) and also on the re-issue of the illy containers. As for the caffeine calculator, that’s handy, thanks!

  • This information is just GREAT and very timely.
    Thanks!
    I had my first expresso yesterday on blvd St Germain and I was surprised how delicious it was. I did put in the sugar as you directed.
    It was Florio, not Illy, but yum! and no after effects either? I expected to hit the ceiling later and nothing untoward happened.
    I saw the foamy milk/coffee parfaits in a glass that Malongo offers and was tempted.
    Have you tried them?
    Very pretty to be sure.
    Please more coffee info!

  • Ahhh yes, us Americans are an impatient group of folks. I live in the heart of the ever so hectic Silicon Valley … and get my ‘grande drip with room’ each morning. I do our lives were a bit more like your experience, more leisurely and with deep rich flvor.

  • Just curious, does the coffee bar at Illy serve sweets as well?

  • I noticed how relaxed the people in the photo are. They look like they are enjoying their day! America is learning to enjoy, I have faith.
    Also, I agree, it would be genius to eliminate the tip jar IF cafe owners were willing to share their profits in the form of a living wage with their baristas. I wonder if the Illy barista makes minimum wage or does she have a respectable salary?

  • David,

    What kind of machines were they using at the Illy University? I couldn’t figure out what the brand was?

    The pictures are amazing, really like the look. What kind of camera you using? Sorry I am in a ‘how do you do that’ moment!

    love the site!

    Michael

  • Hi Michael: I use a Canon Rebel with a 50mm 1.8 lens. It’s a great camera for the price and it took me a while to figure out all those dials and things, but it was worth it.

    At Illy, they had about 20 machines for us to use and try, from the Francis!Francis! to a powerful Faema.

  • Thanks David,

    I’m a fashion photographer and I really like the colour and look of your images, great depth of field on that lens as well! Did you shoot the images for your book as well?

    Wow, faema machines, I thought they would have been la marzocco as I heard they were the top of the crop!

    I guess its not the machine, more the actual coffee and the skill of the barista? No?

    Also which course would you recommend at the Illy University? I am opening a coffee shop soon and would love to be taught by the Dons of coffee!

    Ciao e bonjour!

    Michael