It’s 2017 and we’re grumbling our way back to work after the holidays. Well, not all of us. Alessandro from Gimoka’s home cafe on Lake Como and is pretty chuffed about his job. Making coffee for beautiful women all day ain’t that bad, he says. We caught up with him on our recent trip to Italy and chatted not about the ladies, but about the coffee culture in Italy and the perfect espresso. Here’s what he had to say.
Alessandro, you’ve been working at Gimoka’s Como café for almost 4 years, tell us, is the Italian love of coffee a stereotype or do the locals really obsess over their cup of Jo?
Coffee is quintessentially Italian. In America, there is a huge push for flavoured coffees, for beans that taste like chocolate and almonds and strawberries, but in Italy, the emphasis is still on an espresso that is made well and well, tastes like coffee.
What do you mean, tastes like coffee?
The perfect Italian coffee is hot, bitter and short. The flavour notes are subtle and accent the coffee rather than hide the flavour of the beans. If I want a coffee that tastes like chocolate, I’ll eat a piece of chocolate with my espresso. I don’t need to combine the two with artificial flavourings and sweeteners.
We’re a little biased, but we don’t think the perfect espresso necessarily needs to be made by a barista like yourself. What do the Italians think?
There are some terrible baristas out there, I’m not one of them (lol), so I agree. You can have terrible coffee at a bar and you can have terrible coffee at home. It’s all about the products you’re using and how you go about making your coffee. Italians don’t exclusively drink espressos at the local bar. They know how to make a good espresso at home.
Now Alessandro, a few barista tips for making that perfect espresso at home?
Ah, well it’s not all about the machine. You don’t need to go out and buy a really expensive machine. Whether you’re using pods or beans, it’s about understanding your machine’s capabilities and following a few general rules. Always let your machine heat up, never use a cold glass, don’t pull too much coffee and remember to tilt the glass as it pours out for the perfect cream.
You work at Gimoka, but you can still be honest with us. How do Italians feel about coffee pods?
Italians have embraced them almost more than anywhere else in the world. They’re a convenient way to get a consistently good coffee. Italians drink 3-4 coffees a day, so they know what a good coffee tastes like. They hold their coffee brands to the highest standard and companies like Gimoka know that. They’re not going to sell them a substandard product. They’re going to make pods that deliver on an authentically good Italian espresso, otherwise they would have gone out of business years ago.
Favourite Gimoka coffee?
The one everyone at the café always asks for, Gimoka’s Intenso. It might be the red packaging, but it’s the local favourite. I like how intense it is (hence the name Intenso). It packs a real punch. It’ll wake you up with its richness and bitterness. It’s a medium roast, so it’s dark, but you don’t get those almost burnt notes that turn some people off a traditional dark roast. It holds its own when you add a drop of milk or when making a cappuccino, which is nice. I don’t like watered down coffee.
So you drink cappuccinos?
Sure! Most Italians have them for breakfast, although I make a few in the afternoon here at the café too and I’ve never yelled at someone for ordering one after 11am. Milk isn’t coffee’s enemy. A cappuccino can be as delicious as an espresso, especially if you’re not a heavy hitting coffee drinker and some Italians aren’t. I still wouldn’t add sugar though. Italians never add sugar to their coffees.
Ever been to Australia?
No, but I would love to go. Australians sometime stop by the café and they say places like Sydney and Melbourne have amazing cafés. I’d love to try the Aussie take on coffee. See whether it shapes up to ours!
You can visit Alessandro at Gimoka’s in-house café on Lake Como.