Half-way through my stay in Rome there was this rare evening when I could sit down and have a wee chat with Ambra. The moment I mentioned I review cafes, she asked me if I visited Sant’Eustachio‘s; it featured on the list she had kindly prepared for me prior to my arrival when I had said that one of my aims in Rome was to visit its best coffee houses. Nevertheless, I was surprised that she asked about that particular one straight away – just and only, I figured later, because I was already biased against the place due to a comment I saw on Google Maps when trying to place the cafes from the list on a map: “Niente di speciale”. Since it apparently wasn’t “anything special”, I decided to prioritise the places that received more positive comments; yet Sciascia (“the best Cappucino in Italy”) was closed at any time of day I tried to visit, and Cioccolata e Vino, suggested by Ambra herself when I mentioned I loved mochas, opened only in the evenings – and I didn’t find it safe to travel to Trastevere alone by night time.
Noting Ambra’s disapproval, the following day I made it my mission to visit Sant’Eustachio‘s. As the guides suggested, it was virtually just behind the Pantheon, and the location itself already suggested I was in for a treat.
The place was heaving, with the outside tables – half a dozen of them – all occupied. I bravely entered and placed myself in the three- or four-person queue, which however was served quickly by a rather bored and uninviting looking cashier – another feature one gets used to in Italy. Having skipped breakfast for the purposes of the exercise (which was – to indulge in another Italian cornetto), I was on the lookout for a scrumptious pastry, but all they seemed to have of the sort were apple Danish or croissant miniatures, at a rather shocking price of 1euro per piece – the average price of a normal sized one. I took one nevertheless and moved to pick up my coffee.
The queue by the espresso took longer to deal with, mainly because of all the people that were standing there just drinking. When a couple finally finished their macchiatos (I mean, how long can it take to drink a macchiato?!), I jumped in their place and soon I was served a lovely marocchino, covered in chocolate.
I found myself a quieter space – a bar table with no chairs just by the entrance – and took a minute to take in the lovely view: the small coffee and small pastry embodied the la dolce vita idea beautifully. I finally took a sip of my coffee – and I knew straight away why Ambra was shocked that I hadn’t gone there in the first instance. Velvety texture and lovable sweetness with a harmonious caffeine kick… It was that good, that I asked for another one – and it might just be me, but I thought the cashier gave me a surprised look just then.
Only at that second time by the bar I was asked the question that I had been expecting, having done my research prior to visiting: “Con zucchero?”. It is a common practice at Sant’Esustachio to put sugar in the coffees, often without asking the customer. This must have been the case with my marocchino at the first go, as my second coffee was as sweet as the first one. Of course I said “yes”, I was on holiday after all!
As for the little pastry – well, it contributed to my decision to have a second coffee, as it proved to be a mouthful – and a rather delicious one. What I took for a croissant was sort of a cannolo, disguised for a cornetto: a fried pastry filled with sweet ricotta cheese. The sweetness was overpowering, and the strong coffee balanced it perfectly; but it was also one of the tastiest sweet sensations I have ever experienced.
Sant’Eustachio is not only a cafe with long tradition of serving great quality coffee, it also offers a selection of beans to buy that had been roasted on the premisses in the same way since its establishment in the late 1930s. A historic landmark in its own right in the heart of historic Rome – coffee hardly gets better than this.