Coffee, Raphael, and Caravaggio – Part I

Rome is rich in cafes and churches with thousands lining its streets and piazzas. Some days Antun and I would spend the whole day going from one church to another with intermittent cafe stops just long enough to down an espresso or sparkling water before heading out to the next church. The prize in each church would be one or two masterpieces, a painting by Raphael (also Rafael) or Caravaggio or a sculpture by Michelangelo. No matter how beautiful and meaningful these works of art, after a few hours I would feel dizzy, my mind would wander, and I could hardly appreciate what I was seeing. Perhaps for me, good things come in small doses.

 Part I: Roman coffee and cafes



Roman coffee  is rich, intense and nutty. Servings are small. The Romans are masters of the espresso even though this way of making coffee originally came from Milan and the introduction of coffee from Arabia to Italy was through Venice. 


Served with milk in the morning as a cappuccino or at any time of the day as an espresso or ristretto, Roman coffee pleases. Particularly dense and creamy is a ristretto, a more concentrated espresso, made with less water and with lots of crema or schiuma, the rich foam that floats on the top.  At a cafe, standing at the bar, an espresso, regular or ristretto, costs under a Euro. This is how we would take our coffee breaks. I loved to watch the barista move along the bar, take orders, and make coffee with a twist of the wrist. As patrons left, he would pick up cup and plate and, in a second, wash them before making the next order.


Cafes are especially wonderful in the morning as the City gets moving and all kinds of people stop by: Workers on their way to the job, students off to class, homemakers heading to market, seniors out on an errand. We tried out all sorts of cafes: Traditional and hip, modest and upscale, dim and bright, quiet and noisy. Our favorite was a small, slim, red and white decorated place around the corner from our hotel where music school faculty, administrators, and students would breeze in and out.


Breakfast in any Roman cafe is usually fast, but the coffee and pasta (pastry) enjoyed at the bar as quickly as it can be gulped down is not fast food! Thankfully, no multi-national corporations are at work here.

Even when in a hurry, Romans enjoy their food.  You can see it on their faces.  They smile, lightly smack their lips, and tilt their heads in pleasure. Then as quickly as they have appeared, they are gone. We followed their lead and took in cafes a sip at a time.


All original content copyright 2008 Mary E. Slocum 


3 responses to “Coffee, Raphael, and Caravaggio – Part I

  1. I loved this one, hopefully I will go to rome some day 😀


  2. Are you sure pasta and pastry are the same? They weren’t in Florence when we lived there. Pasta is the beginning of any serious meal, lunch or dinner whereas pastry is “dolce” i.e. dessert of some sort.

    From the author: Thank you for your question. I, too, was surprised when I checked. The dictionary I am using on the web says that pasta is the Italian for the English, pastry, and can also mean dolci. It also translates pasta to macaroni.

  3. Diana DeFrenza

    I’ll definitely enjoy more than one coffee. Ciao

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