What's Brewin' New Coffee News
Demitasse — From Around the World
by Bruce Milletto
President, Bellissimo Coffee InfoGroup
Barista & Coffee School
Throughout the ‘90s, I made many trips to
Italy. On each visit, I delighted in the unique cups I saw in the
bars I visited, so much that
I would consider starting a collection of these perfectly proportional vessels,
called tazzini in Italian. My fear of getting them back to Oregon unscathed was
a roadblock to collecting, but every time I returned home I would regret that
I had not made the effort to stow some of these ceramic gems in my suitcase and
take the chance that they would arrive in America in one piece.
Then, in October 1997, a dear friend took me to a unique bar in Amalfi called
Caffé Maresca. Not only was the bar extraordinary, but the demitasse cups
were unbelievably distinctive. I loved the industrial art design of the cups
and I thought about trying to buy one, but instead I only committed to my friend
that one day I would like to start my own tazzini collection. Two months later,
a small package arrived just in time for Christmas containing a cup from Caffé Maresca.
This was the first in a collection that now includes more than 200 demitasse
cups from nine countries. Many of the cups are from well-known coffee roasters
and machine dealers. The ones I cherish most are those that bring back memories
or are rare or unique in style and design.
On my most recent trip to Italy, I brought back
more than 20 cups. Obviously, I no longer worry about breaking
them en route or lugging them through airport security. This
pictorial will give readers a glimpse of the artistry and energy
that is applied to this tool that is primary and essential to
the foundation of the espresso industry. Espresso is meant to
be served in a demi. The cup has the right size, shape and thickness
to hold in the heat of the espresso, but it also has a design
that gives tactile pleasure to the user when handling it.
|It is obvious that these cups
are from the mother country of coffee: Ethiopia. The one
on the right has no handle and
is typical of the shape of most coffee cups there. During
the traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony,
|| a rich, deep brew is prepared
by pounding freshly pan-roasted coffee beans with a pestle
in a hollow stump. The coffee is then trickled into a black
earthenware pot (as with cowboy coffee) and steeped over
|All five of these cups are from Florence, Italy. Harry’s
bar, a famous haunt of writers and artists, has long been
established on the Arno River. The city is home to two of
the most famous coffee bars in all of Italy: Paszowski, which
opened in 1846, and Gilli, established in 1733.
||Two of the finest bars in Florence are located only a piazza
away from each other: B. Gallo, with its cutting-edge architecture
and flair for the hip, and Fratelli Degl Innocenti, which
serves the best cappuccino, pastry and panini in the city
but above all has the warmest service. Stephano, the bar’s
owner, has a smile filled with such warmth that it makes
you feel like a dear friend, even on your first visit.
|The demi on the left has a retro feel, and
the other is lovely for its rare motif. In today’s
U.S. climate of political correctness, neither logo probably
would be acceptable, but just as Aunt Jemima represented
great pancakes on boxes of mix sold stateside years ago,
companies in other countries have used stereotypical images
to depict the origin of coffee.
As mentioned earlier, the cup from Caffé Maresca
was the start of the collection. Its bold military art design
likely was created after World War II and is very rare. I
found the cup from café de Eland, which depicts
a moose, on a barge in Amsterdam. On another barge in Amsterdam,
I found the cup from The Grasshopper Bar, which is well
for selling certain herbs that can accompany a shot of espresso.
|Bar De Martino is my favorite bar in all of Italy, in part
because it is in Positano, but mostly because of the owner
Chero De Martino and his family, who run this little bar
overlooking the Amalfi coast. Simply by looking at this cup,
I can smell the sea air, feel the sun and see the old men
playing cards in the corner of the bar.
|Romcaffé is a famous coffee from Macerata. I have
many cups that bear the company’s newer designs, but
I always remember this old one. On my last trip to the city,
a bar owner went upstairs and 30 minutes later appeared with
the last cup he had with this design, and he gave it to me
as a gift.
||A company at an exhibition in Italy gave me the cup on
the right after I marveled at the unique logo. The company
and origin of the cup are unknown, but it is a truly unusual
This cup from Café Ricos depicts scenes from Milan. Pictured are the Duomo,
the galleria and the castle of the city. Collecting demitasse with themes is
popular, and illycaffe is known for producing some amazing sets. What struck
me about this cup is that the painting was done exclusively for one small bar
in the heart of Milan.
This beautiful cup is from Egypt. Although the cup is not an antique, the age-old
design is exquisite, and it’s convivial in it’s traditional look
On a trip to the big island of Hawaii, I took a break
from driving up the coast, and stopped in a very small
and cluttered antique shop overlooking the ocean.
| I was shocked to find this cup, which I would guess is
quite old. I wonder how many people visited the Cherokee
Village in the 1940’s were buying these to take home
to use to drink their espresso. This find was simply amazing!
|About 10 years ago, I met a man named Paolo Della Puppa,
who at the time worked for Kobrick’s Coffee in New
York. Formerly in the music industry (having toured with
the likes of Madonna), he told me of his dream to open his
café. About five years ago, he opened Via Quodronno in New York, and
the café became instantly famous.
|| Martha Stewart did an entire show onsite. And if you ever
met Paolo, you would understand why. There are now Via Quodronno
Café’s in Tokyo and Coral Gables, Fla. He once
told me the story of the flying pig depicted on the cup,
but it would require several pages to explain.
On a recent trip to Manhattan, I walked for hours and found myself quite by accident
in little Italy. I purchased myself this nontraditional yet warm and amusing
piece, and it the only one that ever got broken in transport. I was crushed
until a few weeks later, when I was at an autostrada stop in Italy and, to
my great surprise, found the same cup.
Milletto is founder of The
American Barista and Coffee School and Bellissimo
Coffee InfoGroup. He is recognized by the press and the coffee
industry internationally as the voice of North America’s
specialty coffee industry.