The Romans: Sant’Eustachio the coffee

If you ask them, they will tell you the Sant’Eustachio café is a small family business and it is indeed: Raimondo is the owner with his daughter, Federica, and his brother, Roberto. If you ask any Roman instead, he will tell you that the Sant’Eustachio café is the most famous café in Rome. Before the quarantine, to reach the counter and ask for a coffee (in Italy “coffee” is “espresso”), you could wait in a chaotic, typically Italian row. It is a kind of “group row”and seeing the waiters, as far away as the Mona Lisa of the Louvre, concentrated behind the huge coffee machines, was barely possible. Things  have changed with the reopening: the line is straight and very long. Especially on Sunday afternoon when the Romans come for a walk in downtown and don’t go home before having a coffee at Sant’Eustachio. A line with a beginning and an end, finally! Regular. Completely unrolled into the square!

The café Sant’Eustachio is so famous that many people don’t even know anymore that it’s the café that takes its name from the church that overlooks the beautiful square of Sant’Eustachio and that in turn gives the name to this district of Rome and not vice versa!

Unlike the novel “Max Havelaar” written by Multatuli, which uses coffee just as a cue to talk about something else, here at Sant’Eustachio coffee is the real obsession: you can ask for Espresso, Monachella, Moretto, Shakerato, Freddo con panna, Gran Caffè, Gran Cappuccino and many other (delicious!) variations that, as Federica tells me, are not even on the menu but that their customers know very well. Yes, because this café, set in the beautiful setting of Palazzo Cenci – the first architectural work by Giulio Romano, one of the most talented students of Raphael’s workshop – has been here for over 200 years. It was called “Caffè e Latte”. It was renovated in 1938 and since then it has remained as it was, full of history, lives and scent of coffee.

For about 3 years, Federica’s uncle, Roberto, moved to Brazil to personally follow the choice and purchase of coffee beans, selected in the plantations of small South American producers. Once arrived in Italy, the coffee beans are wood roasted with a delicate and artisanal method to protect the sweetness of the taste.

I love to bring my guests here during the tours, because, even though they know espresso and like it, Sant’Eustachio coffee is a Roman tradition and a real taste experience. After the first sip, they usually look at me with their wide open eyes (surprised eh?) and I immediately understand what they want to ask me. How is such a taste’s exaltation possible? The answer is that I have no idea at all and no one in the “Sant’Eustachio family” will ever tell the secret of such a delight. Perhaps this harmony depends on several factors: the choice of the blend, the artisanal processing, the coffee machines facing the inside of the counter that do not allow you to see how the coffee fill up the cup. Even Eric Favre, tried to make this question when he was a tourist like many in Rome. And when the waiter told him that all he did to get such a coffee was just “push a button”, he became the inventor of Nespresso.

It’s easy to meet Raimondo and Federica because they’re always at work. Except when AS Roma Football Club plays. Then Raimondo disappears for 90 minutes and goes with Vincenzo to watch the match in some club with the big screen near here!



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