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Secrets and Science of Coffee in Trieste

Italy is justly famous for its coffee and Trieste reigns supreme as the heartland, hub and main coffee port with a long established tradition in the finest coffee. 

There is no better place to sit back and enjoy a coffee than Trieste's grand central square Piazza dell' Unita , as cafe-goers sip on their cappuccinos, watching sea gulls dive for fish and sailing boats tie up on the jetties of the Porto Doganale directly in front of them.

Trieste has a reputation worldwide to uphold and is renowned for it's love affair with coffee but it's not just working with coffee that has a tradition in Trieste. It's also drinking it. Trieste locals down twice as much coffee as the Italian average, going through a staggering 10 kilos per capita a year. While there are many bars in the center that serve coffee on the go, Trieste has a feature unique within Italy: the traditional Viennese-style coffee house.

Caffe San Marco is just one of the five distinctly historical cafes remaining in Trieste. From the frescos, wood-paneling and the marble tabletops, not much has changed since literary figures such as James Joyce, Italo Svevo and Umberto Saba used to drink here 100 years ago. "It was frequented by writers then and still is now," says Franco Fellipi, who has been running the cafe for well over a decade. He points to a table in the corner of the cavernous interior reserved for Claudio Magris, an Italian writer mentioned as a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. 

The local way to drink coffee, an espresso served the Triestine way - is in a tiny glass, rather than a cup. There is no consensus on who brought this particular tradition to Trieste. There are those who say it was the Turks, but it could also have been the Jews. The dark aromatic coffee is delicious. But anyone drinking an espresso in a town with more than 250 years of coffee experience should expect no less.

Trieste's coffee tradition began over 250 years ago, in 1719, under the thumb of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Habsburg Emperor Charles VI gave the port tax-free status, resulting in the ports boom. Serendipitously, the coffee craze had hit Europe and as the Viennese became addicted to caffeine, green beans destined for Austria's roasteries became one of Trieste's biggest imports.

The main port activities have since moved south of the city to the Porto Nuovo though the smell of coffee still hangs thickly in the air thanks to the hundreds of coffee warehouses lining the port. Trieste retains its coffee origins as the main Mediterranean coffee port, with an average of 1 to 1.5 million bags of green coffee beans passing through the port, and over 2 to 2.5 million bags imported through the port annually.

The Trieste region has developed and evolved into a major coffee industry, with traders, shipping agents, wholesalers, graders, decaffinaters and roasters all clustering in the region. One of the largest is Pacorini, moving over 10 percent of the world's raw coffee beans, as well as cleaning, grading and testing the beans in the port before shipping and their onwards journey to traders and roasters.

For perfect coffee  - You need to identify any defects, green bean samples are analysed in laboratories based in the port and personally tested by quality controllers, not unlike professional wine tasters. You roll it around your mouth and spit into a plastic spittoon more usually found in a dentist's surgery. Starting with raw beans, which are then roasted and ground before sampling. Even grinding is a science in itself, dependent on the color and origin of the coffee, have to ground in a very exact way to obtain a good result.

Blending for taste and aroma - After the green beans are tasted, sorted and washed at the port, they still have to go through a major step before they can be drunk - that of blending and roasting. 

The secret to a perfect blend - There aren't any coffees that stand alone; it's exactly for this reason that roasters blend coffee. A bitter bean by itself will just give you a bitter coffee, or you may have a coffee with a great smell, but then you drink it and have the aroma but the taste is missing. These individual qualities put together make something better than the sum of the parts in the hands of an expert. Coffee beans arrive from all over the globe, India, Columbia, Brazil, Vietnam and Guatemala etc to be mixed and blended in Trieste. 

No tour of the area would be complete without a visit to one of the major coffee houses. On Day 7 of the 'Classic Italy Coast to Coast' tour, tantalise your taste buds with a fascinating guided tour and tasting through one of Italy finest coffee houses.