“It’s Luigi! The actual Luigi!” I hissed at my family as we waited for our coffees to be prepared at Rome’s famous Bar del Cappuccino (50 Via Arenula). Luigi Santoro, an award-winning über-barista, is the much-discussed man behind the place’s success, drawing a steady stream of both nonchalant locals and excited visitors six days a week. Clippings stating his claim to fame lined the right-hand wall as we walked in to queue for our drinks. There he was in print form, captured in the pages of newspapers from Japan and Italy, with his thick moustache and a face gripped in concentration.
I’d been tipped off about this hotspot by a slew of glowing reviews online, from CNN and TripAdvisor to personal blogs, and most reviewers mentioned the man behind the business. Other Rome-based recommendations included Antico Cafe Greco beside the Spanish Steps, but the heaving crowds of tourists were off-putting, plus sit-down prices were rumoured to be extortionate. Instead, Bar del Cappuccino offered something more casual – an insider experience on the go, adopting the traditional Italian rite of standing up for a caffeine fix before we could hurry back into another frenzied sightseeing session.
My parents went for an espresso (which is referred to as plain old ‘caffè’ in Italy, FYI) and an Americano, my sister picked a caffè latte, but I opted for a cappuccino which arrived with a flower design poured expertly in foam by the man himself. This is a skill that isn’t unique to Luigi but does require a steady hand – many cafe chains tend to overlook milk designs in favour of a quicker entry-level chocolate powder stencil, however there was no cutting corners here.
Whilst I don’t pretend to know any of the jargon involved in coffee worship, I’d say my cappuccino was incredibly smooth and rich, without the gritty aftertaste that you sometimes get from the average cup on the British high street. Yes, I was breaking the rules of Italian cafe culture by indulging after lunchtime, when a foam-topped milky drink is considered too heavy and is swapped for lighter alternatives, but I wanted to try the signature offering and was happy to go against the grain.
Can this be called the best coffee in Rome? We did sample a few others between us, but this was a unanimous favourite from the trip. I guess Bar del Cappuccino didn’t get that many good reviews without knowing a thing or two about what people want. Don’t miss the chance to pop in when you’re visiting the Eternal City and say hello to the moustachioed man behind the counter.