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It’s the first thing we think about when we wake up. Before a list of to-dos, a daily plan of attack, or even the thought of glancing at the weather outside; coffee is on our mind. Typically in Italy, we wake up and put on a small Bialetti moka pot at home or prepare ourselves quickly for the day before heading straight to a bar for our fuel.
Un caffè, per favore “a coffee, please” is all the Italian you need to get the day started. There are many options now with or without milk, long espresso, caffè americano, caffè latte or cappuccino; but un caffè says it all. Valeria, our winemaker friend in Sicily, said she went into a bar and asked for “un caffè” and the barista’s response was: come? “how?”. She was completely baffled. How?? You know how! A coffee in Italy refers to a single espresso, nothing fancy, no milk, no nonsense. Our brains are so delicate in the morning, that we wait for that first sip like our entire day depends on it… because it does.
Here in Palermo, I checked out the oldest family-run coffee roaster in the city. Besides the fact that yes, it is just steps from where I live, and yes, the men working in the bar are quite adorable; this is the best coffee you can get in town and with an amazing story to boot. Ideal Caffè Stagnitta has been around since 1928, and remains the oldest torrefazione, still in its original location, and one of the only coffee roasters still standing after all these years.
Opened by Giovanni Stagnitta in 1928, passed on to his son Franco, then the son-in-law Rosario Marchese, and now Ideal Caffè Stagnitta is run by fourth-generation brothers Massimo andGianfranco Marchese as a true family affair. I spent the morning with Massimo picking through coffee bean bags, breathing in the aromas and nibbling on toasty crisp coffee beans, while firing away a million questions about what they do here. Massimo told me his Nonno Franco didn’t want him to follow in their footsteps. He was warned about how hard this work is, the dedication of very long hours, and no time off. But, he has been working here for about 20 years, since he finished high school, and has never looked back.
At Ideal Caffè Stagnitta, they focus on old roasting techniques using a machine that has been in the shop for over 40 years. There is an art in knowing the quality of raw products to source, how to roast, when the beans are ready, how long they should be mixed and cooled, and how to blend flavors and strengths before putting anything up for sale in the shop.
The raw green coffee beans come in from Africa, India, Brasil, Guatemala, Colombia, and Nicaragua. Stagnitta roasts the beans 2-3 times every week from about 7AM-9:30AM. The beans are fed into the machine then constantly mixed and roasted for about 20 minutes at 100ºC (212º F). They check the color as it roasts and when the beans are ready, they are poured out with a big puff of steam before being cooled for about 5 minutes on the rotating table. The beans are then mixed according to what blends they want to make and put back into the original burlap sacks.
They make coffee for many restaurants and bars in town, but also sell directly in the store and online through the website. About 3 years ago, Massimo opened Casa Stagnitta right next door. Since the street became a pedestrian zone, he realized there was a great opportunity to open a small bar that of course serves their own coffee, but also prepares gelato and typical pastries that are made with coffee. It’s a special little place in the historic center of Palermo, tucked away next to Piazza Bellini and around the corner from the famous fountain of Piazza Pretoria and the red-domed Chiesa di San Cataldo.
Next time you are in Palermo, stop by Casa Stagnitta for un caffe and if you want to purchase their coffee online, it is available all throughout Italy and also exported abroad.
Ideal Caffè Stagnitta di Vincenza Stagnitta
Discesa dei Giudici 42, Palermo, Sicilia 90133
Casa Stagnitta: sorsi e morsi di caffè
Discesa dei Giudici 46, Palermo, Sicilia 90133
The Cheeky Chef, Linda Sarris was raised in a big Greek-American family with a Chef grandfather, a fisherman Dad and a kitchen full of women who loved to cook. After a career in book publishing and a secret night-school culinary degree, she ran away to Sicily with a scholarship to work for a farm-to-table cooking school. She has worked as a fishmonger at Eataly, consulted for a restaurant in Romania, cooked for a Tuscan winery and underground supper clubs in New York. With a home base in Brooklyn, Linda works as a private chef and often travels to Italy for freelance jobs like her new project SNACK, a chef’s guide to Sicilian food/wine.