I don’t know what makes one bar more popular than another one. Illy would tell you that it is the barista that makes the bar. They would say that their specially trained baristas — whom they choose to call artisti del gusto or taste artists — are the perfect balance between friendly and skilled. Apparently, these are the traits that make a barista, and thus a cafe, good.
I’m not sure I buy it. Italy seems to have a whole bunch of cafes where the baristas are far from friendly that are popular. True, there are ones where people spill out onto the street all the while talking amongst themselves and calling over to Giovanni at the bar, but that’s not always the case. Strangely, it’s the exceptions that I’ve always found to be the most crowded.
Take Pavia’s Caffè Delizia, for example. The bar is on a busy thoroughfare, Corso Cavour, and is always, always nearly filled with people. It doesn’t have the charm that might attract people to a cafe in America or England. The decor is loud and harsh with red walls, white tables and accents of chrome everywhere. People go with their friends, but don’t seem to talk to other people when they arrive. The tables are generally filled, but the bar is usually empty. I have spent my time in Pavia until now walking by, turning my head and wondering what on earth the appeal of this place was. I’m still wondering to be honest.
I went to Caffè Delizia on a balmy February morning. It was sunny and I woke up in a good mood. After finally peeling myself out of bed, I donned my Saturday finest (read: jeans and cashmere sweater) and bounced outside. I knew where I was going and I was excited. On my way I weaved through the already busy streets and contemplated whether or not to get a cappuccino scuro or a caffè lungo macchiato. These are, of course, the only kind of decisions I can make on a Saturday morning before breakfast.
Caffè Delizia was already humming with activity when I walked in. I said the obligatory ‘buon giorno‘ to the barista as I made my way to a double table in the back of the cafe. There were two rooms in this cafe and I was delighted to see a group of students with books in the back. The barista came back at lightening-speed by Italian standards and immediately took my order. It should be noted, however, that she asked me if I was waiting for anyone. Um, no. I’m flying solo today my friend.
The cappuccino scuro and brioche vuota arrived in a simiarly quick manner. I was delighted to see that my cappuccino looked proper good and not just like warmed over milk. A quick sip revealed that it was, indeed, coffee flavored. Still, it had that interesting Italian coffee flavor that I don’t really like but have slowly developed an affection for.
My brioche, however, was disappointing. I could tell from the moment that it was set down in front of me. It looked like something that had been shipped from a large processing center and then pulled out of the plastic wrapper that morning. At least it was probably fresh, fresh from the package that is.
There was an unfortunate sticky glaze that only seemed to cover two thirds of the pastry. That orange-chemical flavor was coming through in full force. It could have been worse, but it would never, never make me go back. I glanced at some of their other pastries on my way out, all of which looked a bit better. Given this experience, however, I’m not eager to try.
So, why is Caffè Delizia always filled to the brim with people? I’m not sure. I’m guessing that it partly has to do with location, seating and a bit with the baristas. The coffee could be worse, but the whole experience was traced with a hint of rush. It is most definitely an Italian coffee experience.
What do you think makes a cafe popular? Why do you choose to drink coffee or eat breakfast at a certain locale?