Four letters that bring to mind the Roman Empire and which are equally commonplace around the modern city, but how many of those familiar with the abbreviation know what it represents? Even forty years after my school years I remember Senatus Populus Que Romanus, which simply means The Senate and People of Rome, and for once is a good literal representation of my topic. (Ironically it was a statement about democracy in a city that was ruled over by despots in various guises for centuries thereafter)
Like the UK, the Italian Parliament consists of two houses; one of which, the senate, is located in a 16th century former Medici palace; Palazzo Madama, though in these times of heightened terror threats you notice the security measures before you take in the 17th Century facade. Besides which, this post isn’t about the Senate.
Nor is it about the nearby Pantheon, arguably the most impressive Roman building in the city. Completed in the 2nd century it has been in continuous use as temple and now church, and boast what is still the world’s largest roof made from unreinforced concrete.
Between these two grand edifices is a more modest enterprise (especially on my visit when much of the exterior was boarded up). A caffé in what is little more than a back alley of the Senate building that when opened in the 1930’s was probably very modern, but which is now very not. But you’re not there for the decor.
You might be there for the location; for if you’re a reporter its a good spot to buttonhole a politician on his or her way for lunch, and if you’re a people watcher much of the flow of human traffic between Pantheon and that other great tourist magnet the Piazza Navona will pass this way.
But really you should be there for the coffee. Caffé Sant’Eustachio (named after the nearby church) treats its coffee differently. They are passionate advocates of ethical trading and source their coffee carefully in South America, predominantly Brazil, but then there is a secret to how they make it. I should stress at this point that I’m talking espresso at this point, for though you can purchase all the usual suspects there, it is the espresso that is something special.
Clearly displayed on the walls are warnings that if you don’t want sugar you need to say so. I don’t usually add sugar to my drinks, but espresso is the exception as I believe that the rich black intensity needs to be sweet too. Here in Sant’Eustachio it is intrinsic to how they make it, and though the process is shielded by the positioning of the coffee machines, somehow they beat the sugar into the coffee to produce not only a delicious caffé, but one which has a thick foam at the top. Not just a crema, but something more akin to a cappuccino foam; thick and firm enough to survive the consumption of the coffee and needing the intervention of a spoon!