It’s reasonable to think, after sampling coffee at bars all over Italy, that great coffee is ubiquitous throughout the boot. Even the most unassuming tiny cafe can serve up the finest shot of espresso, and there are many justifiably famous cafes in Italy, too. In Rome, however, there are two that stand out – both for their history and for their coffee: Sant’Eustachio and Tazza d’Oro.
Now, before you get the wrong impression, this will not be an article declaring one better than the other. There are differences in taste, to be sure, but as far as I’m concerned that’s a personal preference. The good news is that if you want to do your own taste test when you’re in Rome, it’s only a short walk beteen the two cafes.
Both Sant’Eustachio and Tazza d’Oro have lots of merchandise you can buy, too, including coffee beans and coffee-flavored sweets, so you can bring a little taste of Italy home with you.
Do you have a favorite between Sant’Eustachio and Tazza d’Oro?
Sant’Eustachio il Caffè opened in 1938 in the Sant’Eustachio rione of Rome, and remains in its original (tiny) location to this day. The mosaic of a stag in the entryway (look down, it’s under your feet) is both the emblem of the rione and the caffè – that mosaic and the semicircular bar you see upon entering are both original.
Coffee at Sant’Eustachio is sweetened as a matter of course – if you want yours sans sugar, you have to specify that when you hand your ticket to the guy behind the bar. There are a few tables outside, but most Italians stand at the bar to drink their coffee – it’s cheaper that way.
Walk inside and turn to your right to find the cashier. Pay for what you want first (they have all the usual coffee drinks, plus a menu of specialty drinks (there’s one outside and one by the cashier). Take the receipt you get from the cashier to any open (or open-ish) spot at the bar, where someone will see what you’ve ordered and bring you your drink. Just remember that this is when you need to ask for no sugar if you don’t want it pre-sweetened. They understand English, but you can also say it in Italian: “Senza zucchero” (SEN|zah ZOO|keh|roh).
Sant’Eustachio is famous for: Their crema. Much has been written about the cream atop every Sant’Eustachio coffee – that thick layer of not-quite-foam that a skilled barista can create out of simply coffee and water. Or is that all? Some believe Sant’Eustachio is “cheating” with some added element – egg whites or baking soda, for instance – but they’ve built a wall around their espresso machine to keep anyone from seeing (AKA confirming or denying) the rumors. Whatever they use (or don’t use), the result is silky and remarkable.
Antigua Tazzadoro (or simply Tazza d’Oro as it’s most often called) was founded in 1946, and it’s within sight of the Pantheon. The roaster is in-house (you can smell it, and sometimes see it, through the doors behind the small shop to the left of the cashier). The sign is partly in Spanish – declaring the coffee “el mejor del mundo” – as a nod to most of the places where the coffee beans come from. But the product is purely Italian.
The espresso machines at Tazza d’Oro aren’t hidden, everything is visible, and service is characteristically quick. There’s no crema on top of the espresso here (or at least nothing to write home about), but the coffee itself is usually said to be darker and stronger overall – a more “ristretto” shot of coffee, the way Romans typically like it.
There are several doors that will get you into Tazza d’Oro, and you can go through any of them – but the ones toward the left of the corner location will get you more directly to the cashier, who you have to visit first anyway. Pay for the drink you want, and you’ll get a receipt to give to someone behind the bar. The space at Tazza d’Oro is much larger than at Sant’Eustachio, so there’s usually some space to be found along the bar where you’ll exchange your receipt for your drink. And here, you add the sugar yourself.
Tazza d’Oro is famous for: Their granita di caffè. In warmer weather, the best caffeine option is essentially a rich coffee slushy, layered with whipped cream. This is no coffee-flavored crushed ice, it’s flavorful (and sweetened) Tazza d’Oro coffee that’s been frozen and is kept in metal gelato bins, scooped into cups between layers of thick whipped cream. It’s a pick-me-up, it’s a dessert, it’s a meal. And in the summer, it’s a must.