My enjoyment of a short cup of excellent coffee is a matter of public record. It was not ever thus; I went about my business for many of my younger, more excitable years in a puritan frame of mind, believing that coffee was a pseudo-intellectual affectation and a signifier of all things ponderous and American as opposed to a decent and reviving beverage. This uncompromising attitude, I like to think, stemmed from a youthful infatuation with Punk rock, and its Taliban-like dismissal of anything considered to be self-indulgent. Now, with the benefit of more rings around my trunk, as it were, I realise that this was really just a clever marketing exercise and not a ‘year-zero’ social revolution. But that’s another debate for another day.
From time to time, I am moved to put virtual pen to paper and post a story about my ongoing search for the source of good coffee. And so it is that this morning I experienced a very good outpost of two things I love – namely Italy and coffee in little cups. East Anglia in general, it may be safe to say, is not over-endowed in cosmopolitan environments. So, on a trip to Cambridge, it was exciting to see that a long-established Italian haunt is still thriving, and supplying the kind of atmosphere that, were the weather to be more obliging, might convince the casual browser and sluicer that they were sipping their espresso whilst watching girls pass on a Roman ‘Via’, listening to Dean Martin or Frank himself crooning, as opposed to sitting by a cold street round the corner from Cambridge bus station.
Savino’s, a small but perfectly formed and genuine Italian coffee bar, is the subject of this adoration. From a cyclist’s point of view, it is unlikely to be the first stop on the roadie’s agenda. In the City centre, it is more suited to foot traffic, although you know that there should really be a couple of battered Vespas parked outside, on which would be sitting swarthy young men with dark hair, winking at the young females passing through the door and spitting between the feet of any male customers willing to meet their gaze. But, when you enter, you’ll find that the first priority is to find a seat. It’s no secret that this is probably the finest coffee house in the City, and a coterie of clued-up locals knows it. So, assuming you find a seat, the next priority is to grab one of the many newspapers that are provided for customers – a far more civilised act than the miserable Starbucks-style of merchandising where you are forced to buy a paper if you want to browse with your coffee.
They serve Illy coffee here, and the purist is rewarded with a creditable espresso, whereas most people seem to go for the capuccino and mocha – the barista, a genuine, geezerish Italian, applies the frothed milk and powdered chocolate in such a truly artistic style that you are left fascinated by watching him. The food, cafe-style stuff mainly, is home made and genuine – top-notch paninis and pizza slices, as well as a variety of pastries. But perhaps, depending upon your particular preference, the hot chocolate is the single most indulgent and extraordinary drink on the menu. Made from literally melted chocolate, which is blended with hot frothed milk, this is a meal in a cup and would satisfy the most abused cycling legs to provide energy for the ride home.
Just don’t forget to arrive on a baby blue Bianchi, wearing team kit – you’re likely to get short shrift otherwise….
Postscript to the above: I have also replaced the last batch of Monmouth espresso beans with a bag of Arabica beans from Carluccio’s, having been strong and resolute enough not to go beserk and buy expensive pastas and sauces at the same time – running report on this to follow…..