Continuing our Espresso in Torino and Piemonte series, we turn to a local roaster who does a whole lot more than the typical torrefazione/caffè in Italy.

This one is located in the bustling small town of Asti — as in SF’s Palio d’Asti, which itself is named after the famous bareback horse race in the town. (Interestingly enough, residents of the nearby rival town of Alba celebrate their own Palio degli Asini, a donkey race that mocks their Asti neighbors.) Asti is also home to the sparkling wine, Asti Spumante — which, while it can be pretty good, no local can ever be caught drinking.

Familiar neon sign in front of Asti's Caffè Ponchione Caffè Ponchione from Corso Vittorio Alfieri

Caffè Ponchione is a famed area local roaster (or torrefazione) and champion of Slow Food causes. This location is also a working café, selling wine, sweets, and Slow-Food-friendly consumables.

As a café, it is a bit more advanced than the rest in the area (or most any café in San Francisco, for that matter). For one, they offer up to seven different selections of coffee beans for your espresso — from their standard blend at €0.80, a decaffeinated option (no, really), several single estate coffees for €1.50, and Jamaican Blue Mountain at €2. Now why you would want to use JBM beans in an espresso is a separate question, but otherwise there are no indicators that these guys aren’t at the top of their game.

Roasted beans, wine, and sweets in Caffè Ponchione Caffè Ponchione offers several bean options for your espresso (to the right of the machines)

Using two-group and three-group La Cimbali MTR Dosatrons, they pull shots with a mottled medium brown, tiger-striped crema — which can run lighter at times (of course, we had to sample several shots here). It’s a place for area coffee lovers, however, and the flavor tends to run in the smoky, almost tobacco-like range.

Read the review of Caffè Ponchione.

The Caffè Ponchione espresso The streets, shops, and towers of the Asti centro nearby