Rome is awash with amazing art and architecture … and great coffee shops. Jesper Storgaard Jensen finds 10 top spots for a caffeine fix.
Text and photo: Jesper Storgaard Jensen
The bags are packed, and everything is ready for your trip to Rome. The Eternal City’s numerous historical sites and thousands of cosy restaurants, pizzerias, trattorias and wine bars are waiting to greet you.
But where do you actually go, if you want to taste the famous Italian coffee, which – quite understandable – is the main reason why so many Italians suffer from “coffee withdrawls” when away from home.
The choice is not easy in Rome’s urban jungle of almost 6,000 bars and cafés. I visited ten of its best-known cafes, all full of atmosphere and tradition. Check the possibilities and make your choice: Follow the footsteps of the Pope or the filmmaker Federico Fellini, experience the solemn ambience in city’s oldest café, witness heated political discussion, relax in a stylish, cosy living room or simply be enchanted by the colourful locals from the old Trastevere neighbourhood.
1. Antico Caffé del Brasile
Via Serpenti 23
Open: Monday to Saturday, 6am to 8.30pm. Closed Sunday.
Speciality: Caffé del Papa.
The Antico Caffé del Brasile (The Old Brazilian Café), situated in Rome’s cosy Quirinale neighbourhood, is only a good stone throw away from the Colosseum and the Forum Romanum. The small café opened its doors for the first time in 1905. The Antico Caffé burns their five different blends themselves, of which the most famous is the “Caffé del Papa”, the Pope’s coffee, as the lighted sign announces outside the café. This blend got its name from recently deceased Pope John Paul II. When he was young and studied theology at the close by Angelicum University, he often stopped at Antico Caffé for a cup of coffee. In the years just before the break out of the Second World War, the café was a popular venue for intellectuals and cultural personalities, who frequently met to discuss the way of the world. Today the Antico Caffé is mainly attended by people from the local neighbourhood. If you want to follow the footsteps of John Paul II, you can easily do so on your way to a visit to the Colosseum.
2. Caffé Sant’Eustachio
Piazza Sant’Eustachio 82
Open: All week, 8.30am to 1am. Closed Wednesday.
Speciality: Grancaffé speciale.
One of Rome’s most popular coffee temples, Sant’Eustacchio, is situated between Pantheon and Piazza Navona, just behind the Italian Senate. The café was founded in 1938 and the deer mosaic on the floor, the café’s emblem, has been there from the very first day. The many different kinds of coffee, arriving from all over the world, are burnt in the back of the café on an old fashioned coffee burner, which is heated with wood. The highly praised quality of Sant’Eustacchio’s coffee has crossed both Rome’s and Italy’s boarders long ago, which, according to the owner, Mr. Raimondo Ricci, has attracted celebrities such as J.F. Kennedy, Boris Jeltsin, Sylvester Stallone and Naomi Campbell. Sant’Eustacchio’s specialty is the creamy expresso “Grancaffé speciale”, but the selection of the blends is almost unlimited. For the sweet-toothed, the Grancapuccino or the hot chocolate with whipped cream, made with real cacao beans, are highly recommendable.
3. Caffé Tazza D’Oro
Via degli Arfani 84-86
Open: Monday to Saturday, 7am to 8pm. Closed Sunday.
Speciality: Monachella - espresso
One of Rome’s most well-known cafés, Caffé Tazza D’Oro, The Golden Cup, is situated in front of the 2000-year-old Pantheon. Tazza D’Oro opened in 1946. The café’s interior design - bambooed walls, ceiling fans and large, transparent containers with ungrinded coffee beans – gives the Golden Cup a charming pre-war colonial atmosphere. In the café you’ll find exotic blends such as Jamaica Blue Mountain and the rare Maragogype from Nicaragua, which is the main the reason why Tazza D’Oro is considered a true Mecca for coffee lovers. If you want to buy a bag of Tazza D’Oro’s freshly grinded beans, it’s possible to have a taste before you decide. The café’s founder, Mr. Mario Fiocchetto, travelled a lot in South America and was so enthusiastic about the continent and its coffee that he chose a tall, sensual, black woman sewing coffee seeds as its logo.
4. Antico Caffé Greco
Via dei Condotti 86
Open: Monday to Saturday, 8.30am to 8pm, Sunday from 10.30am to 7pm.
Speciality: Not one in particular.
Rome’s oldest café, situated near The Spanish Steps, is truly an institution in the Eternal City. Caffé Greco was founded in 1760 by a Greek (hence the name). Throughout its existence, it has been a popular rendezvous for numerous Italian and foreign cultural personalities such as Keats, Shelly, Byron, Göethe, Liszt, Wagner, Casanova, Hans Christian Andersen and many others. In 1953, the Italian Ministry of Public Education designated the Caffé Greco as “a place of historical and national interest”. The old photos on the walls, the red plush upholstery furniture, together with the waiters’ sometime serious expressions, create an almost solemn atmosphere that gives the visitor a glimpse of what this café must have been like back in its day of splendour. The clientele of today is a judicious mixture of Romans wearing reading glasses – who apparently try their best to uphold the café’s literary tradition – and tourists from all over the world. The café is quite expensive, which is comprehensible, considering its history and posh atmosphere.
Via Ufficio del Vicario 40
Open: All days from 7am to 1am
Speciality: Caffé Confuso and Frappucino.
Giolitti is a well-known family dynasty in Rome’s café environment. The family run company started in 1870 with a dairy-product business. In 1930, the Giolittis opened the doors to what has become one of the most popular Roman ice-cream bars, which, however, is also very well equipped in the coffee section. Giolitti’s location, flanking the Italian Parliament in Piazza Montecitorio, means frequent visits of parliamentarians, their bagmen and other people of political extraction. Giolitti proudly boasts of its contribution in a history-making event where a small group of politicians gathered in Giolitti’s coffee room in 1964 to decide that Giuseppe Saragat was to become Italy’s next prime minister. Ten minutes later the official announcement was made in the Parliament. Giolitti’s two specialities – respectively expresso and cappuccino – will delight your palate. The frappucino is prepared with liquid chocolate, coffee and zabaglione and followed by a generous sprinkle of cacao. A real must!
6. Bar San Calisto
Piazza San Calisto 3-5
Open: Monday to Saturday, 6am to 1am. Closed Sunday.
Speciality: Slush ice with coffee taste and espresso with homemade whipped cream.
Bar San Calisto is situated close to the beautiful Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere in the heart of Rome’s characteristic and suggestive Trastevere neighbourhood. Here Bar San Calisto is considered an institution to such an extent that the locals simply name it “Marcello’s” after the owner, Mr. Marcello Forti, who you’ll usually find behind the cash register. San Calisto is about 40-years old and its clientele is a fascinating mixture of local bohemians, extravagant artist wannabes, foreign students and ordinary people. The aroma at San Calisto is often a mixture of freshly rolled joints and just made coffee. If you happen to be in Trastevere in the evening, don’t miss visiting Marcello’s, either to enjoy an aperitif before dinner or for an after dinner expresso. The people-watching experience of the bar’s charming gallery of characters is unforgettable.
7. Vezio’s Bar
Via dei Delfini 23
Open: Monday to Saturday, 7am to 8.30pm. Closed Sunday.
Speciality: No one special.
Vezio’s Bar opened some 100 years ago, and has changed its’ name several times. The small and fairly anonymous bar hides in the cosy Jewish district. When you step inside, the first thing you will probably wonder is whether the Berlin Wall ever fell or if it was all just an illusion. The owner, Vezio Bagazzini, is a fervent communist, and his bar is populated with an army of like-minded people, both the Italian and international. Here you can find diehard fans of Che Guevara, Marx, Stalin and Italy’s own Antonio Gramsci. The bar is just a hop, skip and jump away from Via del Plebiscito, where the headquarters of the Communist Party were located until 1993. Though the communists’ political heir, the Democratic Left, has moves away, you can still find emotionally charged discussions at Vezio’s. “The party’s palls still drop in now and again to get a cup of coffee and to talk about politics and football”, says Vezio proudly. Probably one of Rome’s most curious cafes!
Piazza del Popolo 4-5a
Open: All days from 7.30 a.m. to 11.30 p.m.
Speciality: Caffé Marrochino - espresso with chocolate, cacao and whipped cream).
Rosati, one of Rome’s most famous so-called historic cafés, saw the light of day for the first time in 1922. Rosati can be found just next to the stunning Piazza del Popolo in the heart of the city. Since the very first days of its foundation it has been a popular rendezvous for la Roma bene, the Roman upper class. Some of Italy’s deceased heavyweight writers, such as Alberto Moravia, Italo Calvino and Elsa Morante, were all regulars at Rosati for a number of years. So was world famous film maker, Federico Fellini, who until his death in 1993 met every morning with his philosopher friend Luciano De Crescenzio. In the late 1970’s, when national terrorism peaked in Italy, Rosati was a popular meeting place for leading rightwing politicians, which in two occasions led to bombings outside and inside the café. Today, Rosati’s marble floors, dark mahogany wood, antique mirrors and white uniforms proudly worn by the bartenders, give you a feeling of having come to a place with spirit and tradition.
9. Antico Caffé della Pace
Via della Pace 3-7
Open: Monday, 4pm to 3am, Tuesday to Sunday, 9am to 3am.
Speciality: Not one in particular. But the coffee is made on the legendary Faema E61-espresso machine from 1961.
Bar della Pace, the Peace Bar, as it is also called, has a hundred-year-old history. It’s situated in one of Rome’s “hot, young areas”, just next to thrilling Piazza Navona. In the evening, the café is mainly frequented by the “party people”. Bar della Pace is considered one of Rome’s hippest cafés. Here you can meet actors, TV personalities, artists, politicians and other VIP’s and wannabes. For this reason the café is considered a perfect hunting place for hungry paparazzis looking for a good “shot”. One of the Beat Generation’s great poets, Gregory Corso, was once a regular. So was the well-known Italian poet Ungaretti. Today – faithful towards its poetic tradition – the Bar della Pace arranges read aloud poetry slams every Friday at 3pm to 6pm. If you want to feel trendy and elite visit Bar della Pace, so you too, can say, that you have “been there”.
10. Gran Caffé La Caffettiera
Via Margutta 61a
Open: Sunday to Tuesday, 10am to 9pm, Wednesday to Saturday, 10am to 12pm.
Speciality: Il caffé Gran Caffettiera.
La Caffettiera, The Coffeepot, is situated in one of Rome’s central and cosy artists’ street, Via Margutta, where art galleries and studios lie shoulder to shoulder. Once Rembrandt and Picasso lived in the same street. While the Gran Caffé opened only in 1999, the building that houses it dates back to 1872. When you walk through the discrete main entrance, you will discover a surprisingly cosy room with large mirrors, big candelabra and Liberty-style furniture. The large skylight, the impressive and antique chandelier, the old-fashioned record player and the shelf full of books help create a charming and intimate atmosphere. The Campaiolo family, who run the cafe, are from Naples, Italy’s coffee capital. The Neapolitan recipe for Il caffé Gran Caffettiera - liquid hot chocolate, a shot of concentrated coffee, skimmed milk, lightly sprinkled with cacao – is a treat for your taste buds!