The French press is an Italian invention, and so is the Americano. Isn’t that something? The former is the brainchild of three Italians, and the latter is the result of Italians adding hot water to espresso simply because they didn’t know how Americans wanted their coffee. These are two great things about coffee, both named after different nations, but both ultimately made by Italians.
Are Italians actually better at all things coffee?
This is the overarching question of the documentary “Coffee: Italians Do It Better(?),” a film about Italian coffee culture and how they tackle their craft differently.
Right off the bat, I was able to tell that this would be quite a journey to watch. First, it’s around 43 minutes long. Second, the characters were all speaking in the fast-paced Italian language. And third, it opened with an information dump about the difference between Arabica and Robusta coffee beans. This is a documentary that one has to watch more than once to completely absorb. It’s worth a viewing, but you may not have the patience to milk it for all it’s worth.
We rate this film 3 out of 5 stars.
There was nothing special about the film’s sound production and cinematography, but it’s OK from a technical production point of view. People who have not yet heard someone speak fluent Italian might find the experience jarring at first, but it won’t take long to get used to. Shots are were crisp and well framed, but color grading is inconsistent all throughout the film. It could use some white balance and a little more vibrancy, but we’re nitpicking at this point, as these didn’t distract too much from the overall viewing experience.
What I found distracting, however, are the subtitles. Aside from the challenge of reading them while watching the movie at the same time, the subtitles themselves were too wordy at times. This leads to a rewind every so often due to missing a word or two. In addition to that, there were one or two moments where it seems as if entire lines of dialogue were not given subtitles at all.
Despite the technical flaws of the film, I still found myself re-watching it more than a couple of times because of the sheer abundance of information that packed into it and the things I could learn. This was where I learned, for example, that Italians exclusively use robusta beans for their espresso and that they drink it on the spot in just two sips. Hence the name “espresso” refers to both the preparation method, but also the drinking method.
It’s also where I also learned the importance of the barista’s role in making and serving coffee. The “Italian way” suggests that the barista should intimately involve the customer into the creation of the drink. I used to think baristas just take the order, make the drink while killing dead air with some idle chitchat, and then serve the drink. The film says that it’s Italian in origin for baristas to use brewing time to open a dialogue with the customer, informing the drinker about the coffee beans that will be used, the flavor profile that they could expect from drinking it, and other important things that they should know in order to help them fully experience their coffee.
All this and more can be gleaned from the film, and show that the Italians really do know their coffee excellently. But, hearkening back to the film’s title, do they do it better than the rest of the world? And the answer, surprisingly (and, spoiler alert), is… not exactly. While they do have the technical know-how and the knowledge of making an ideal espresso that is close to perfection, they believe that they have limited themselves to just espresso, and seem to acknowledge that they lack the passion for the craft that other countries have that leads to variety and experimentation.
However, what the Italians lack in variety, they make up for in openness. The concept of specialty coffee is a rising trend to them, and something that they find to be a positive factor in the growth of Italian coffee culture. They also welcome Starbucks as an innovator in the field of barista training, in that their programs make for better baristas than home-grown Italian-trained coffee professionals. This state of eternal curiosity will be key to the growth of Italy’s coffee industry, and is something that I’m very happy to look forward to in the years to come.
In the end, “Coffee: Italians Do It Better(?)” is a great informative piece to watch during one’s coffee journey, despite some technical hurdles that one might find challenging to get through. I do hope viewers can look past the flaws and find the passion to learn new and old things about the craft straight from the OG innovators.
WATCH “Coffees – Italians do it better(?)” HERE:
This review is part of “COFFEE CULTURE,” Part 2 of 6 in the 2020 Mini Coffee Film Fest. See the other part, “Flower of Flowers” here: