During her first week in the Italian capital of Rome, Charity Keita enjoys getting under the skin of the city’s tourist-packed historical centre and has some suggestions regarding where to get the best cold coffee in town.
The cobbled alleys of the centre of Rome bustle with the humdrum of a thousand foreign voices. Dress and shoe boutiques, made in China souvenir boutiques, couture stores, bars, tourist bars, slice pizza joints, century-old pizzerias, wine bars, Irish pubs, overpriced fish restaurants, mini markets, tour agencies and street vendors selling useless niknaks and roses, all cry out for the attention and purse of the many passers by. During the day, dense packs of tourists walk five abreast, forcing the locals to weave around them, starting and stopping in a never ending arhythmic dance through the uneven surfaces of these ancient streets. At night, hoards of drunken eighteen to twenty-something Americans (and others but Americans are a firm majority) descend on the many dens of inebriation the area has to offer and make merry. One wonders how the locals ever get a wink of sleep.
In the midst of this colourful overcrowded living museum, hiding in plain view, are nuggets big and small that hark back to a less brash and plastic time. A family-run baccala (salt-cod) trattoria that has yet to refurbish according to the pan-European hipster trends of the day, a bakery that despite catering to hundreds of clients daily, has preserved the original recipe of its delicious sourdough loaves, cafes where the same wizened man has been making espressos for close to half a century, an old fashioned framer’s shop, a struggling artist that every month only just manages to make rent. One such place is the Tazza d’Oro, one of the only bars in Rome that since 1947 has been roasting the beans that go into its secret blend of coffee. Tazza d’Oro, which means Golden Cup, is situated on the corner of the square that hosts the majestic structure that is the Pantheon, an ancient Roman temple that was transformed into a Catholic Basilica. On the sign that hangs outside this large and bustling coffee shop, the stylised silhouette of an Eritrean woman sows coffee beans, an outdated and nostalgic symbol of Italy’s failed colonial enterprise.
Tazza d’Oro proudly boasts that its coffee is the best in the city. This is up to debate as right round the corner, lies another equally famous but somewhat more understated bar which also, stubbornly, refuses to give up the crown on the best espresso in Rome. One thing the Tazza d’Oro does, however, is make one of the best granita di caffe con panna the capital of Italy has to offer. Imagine litres and litres of sweetened espresso frozen and then churned for hours; imagine the softest and most fluffy unsweetened whipped cream you’ve ever tasted; now imagine layering these two elements on top of each other. In your mouth, the sharp cold crystals of the bitter sweet coffee wrestle with velvety rich dunes of dairy, the contrasting and complementing flavours and textures sending electric shocks through your brain’s pleasure receptors.
When in Rome there are a million different things that you absolutely must try and listing them is beyond the scope of this column. That said, if I were to suggest one coffee shop to visit on a hot summer’s day when dodging German tour groups as they lumber around on Segways gets a bit too much, then Tazza d’Oro would have to be it.