Back in July we reported on Illy‘s strategy for opening licensed Illy Espressamente cafés across Europe. During my travels in Portugal last month, I had the pleasure of encountering my first one in the unlikeliest of places.
In the perimeter wall of the recently remodelled Praça de Touros do Campo Pequeno bullfighting arena, this fully owned & operated Illy shop actually serves one of the best espresso shots in Lisbon. Not that I have anything against Illy — they do a great many things right and well. But in America, I am so used to Illy beans that have travelled thousands of miles from Trieste, leeching out freshness and flavor in their air-tight cans. So by the time they reach San Francisco, they remain beans of the highest quality — just a bit on the stale side. This, as it turns out, marks the difference between Illy in America versus Illy in Europe.
As you would expect, the café has a newly designed, modern interior — spread out on two floors. The walls and aisles are decked with magazines, artwork, and Illy coffee cans on display. At the bar they offer a wide variety of espresso-based drinks, plus the usual European café options of hard liquor. Here the ristretto is listed separately from the standard café, and the café menu image of the café corretto shows a bottle of Nonino grappa — so you know you’re in good hands.
Using a modern, three-group La Spaziale (one of the nicer models you almost never find in San Francisco), they pull an espresso with a great aroma — better than you get from Illy beans in the U.S. It has a thin layer of dark brown crema — surprisingly thin considering all other indications of quality. (It’s the one thing they didn’t get quite right.) The cup is flavorful, has a full body, and tastes of an herbal pungency and smoke. Served in Illy logo IPA cups with some coffee grit at the bottom, it still beats the pants off any Illy offerings in the U.S. And all for a mere 0,75€.
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