Two years ago when I visited the San Tommaso café in Torino, the birthplace of Lavazza, they were promoting a menu item called espesso that wasn’t exactly what you’d expect.

“Espresso in Italy? How crazy is that?!” But hold on… Note that what we call espresso here in America is called simply a café in Italy… and note the missing ‘r’ (I didn’t at first). So here I was at the Lavazza mothership (the night I was in town to see Juventus lose the Coppa Italia final to Lazio — grumble, grumble), and all the promotions for this espesso item make it look a lot more like ice cream (sorry: gelato). And the many well-heeled Torino business types are coming in for the stuff, standing around holding small cups and spoons in mutual conversation at the dark wood counters. What’s going on?

Well, it turns out that Lavazza’s L’èspesso is a solidified coffee creation of the world’s most renowned experimentalist, post-modern chef, Ferran Adrià, of Catalonia’s (Spain) El Bulli. Chef Adrià is famous for making food that maybe tastes like food, but, to all intents and purposes, you question if it really is food. One of his famous deconstructions is his “pizza” — consisting of a tiny square of rice paper and tomato powder, perched on the head of a pin stuck in a wax bowl. (Word has it that it “tastes just like pizza”.)

With a build up like that, how could you not order L’èspesso at one of the three U.S. Lavazza cafés? — all located in Chicago: Espesso: Turning coffee world upside down? (Chicago Sun-Times, link since broken). While L’èspesso has been available in Europe since 2002, today marks its first day of availability in the U.S. Just a mere $2.49 for what you might call a “shot” (?!), and far cheaper than a meal at elBulli.

UPDATE: Sept. 13, 2006
Chicago’s ABC7 Web site provided a slightly different take on the Sun-Times story, with more of a focus on Lavazza’s offerings: Espesso: Coffee you can eat.

UPDATE: Sept. 13, 2006
Leave it to Movable Feast to write up a quick story with photos on it: Movable Feast: Espesso by Ferran Adria.