This Italian bookstore and import store has been a long-time favorite of ours — but not for espresso. That is until just recently (Fall 2007). It first opened its doors in 1880, making it the oldest store in North Beach. It has changed owners a few times since then, and its newest owners just added espresso bar service.

The A. Cavalli & Co. shop is a North Beach institution — one befitting its age — and it is one of the last remaining, genuine reminders of the true Italian cultural influence on this neighborhood. Its previous owner, John Valentini, retired this year — leaving the future of this SF institution up in question. Fortunately, new owners stepped in and continued the tradition.

They sell Italian language books (including a few of the often-mentioned Gambero Rosso guides, though unfortunately not the Bar d’Italia), magazines, newspapers, CDs, DVDs and VHS tapes, and T-shirts — in addition to various moka pots, Danesi coffee, and some basic pastries from a nearby supplier.

Entrance to A. Cavalli & Co. at a Stockton St. Muni bus stop The new espresso bar inside A. Cavalli & Co.

Inside there are a few small tables with chairs to sit down and relax with a cup. The espresso bar behind the counter consists of a two-group semi-automatic machine, private-labeled by Danesi. Danesi private-labels a lot of their coffee service — from beans, to machines, to cups. And even on close inspection, it’s unclear who are the original manufacturers.

With the Danesi machine, they pull modestly sized shots with a thin layer of dark-to-medium-brown crema. It has a mild herbal flavor, but it’s relatively weak and thin for what we’ve been able to get out of Danesi beans at home. Ernie Friedlander of Caffe Forte recently hooked me up with some Danesi beans, and I was impressed with both how chocolatey they smelled and how good a crema they produced with beans shipped from overseas (I’m generally not a fan of imports). But here there is no chocolate in its aroma or flavor, for example.

A. Cavalli should be capable of more with system tuning and/or practice, however. And of course, they serve it in Danesi logo designer cups.

Read the review of A. Cavalli & Co.

A. Cavalli's Danesi-supplied machine and various coffee accessories The A. Cavalli & Co. espresso