Romans like their coffee fast, strong and burning hot.
We gulp it down, on the run, sans sitting. Drink and go: that’s the philosophy. It’s part of the lifestyle, a persistent aroma that envelopes people from morning till after dinner.
Many Romans drink five or more espressos per day. Bars and cafes are our temples. So it’s hard to rate the best. The cafes we’ve chosen are all in the historic center.
We’ve judged each in the following categories:
1. COFFEE: Taste, smell, temperature, how long it lingers in the mouth, showiness
2. AMBIENCE: Decor, colors, light, mood
3. FOOD: From simple croissants to appetizers and menus
4. SERVICE: Staff competence, friendliness, “at-home” approach
5. LOCATION: Views, proximity to historical monuments and famous places, shopping
Here’s what we found:
15. Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè
Coffee of choice: Gran Caffé – espresso with cream
Sant’Eustachio IL Caffè is the best example of the classical Roman bar: tiny, plain, familiar.
The owners regularly travel to Brazil to select the best coffee beans from Maya descendants, export the coffee to Rome and pack and sell it to the public.
Everything here is made and smells of coffee: cookies, chocolate bars, cakes, frappes and slushies.
Drinking an average of some 6,000 coffees a day, clients range from politicians to high school kids. Henry Kissinger and Mikhail Gorbachev have had coffee here.
82 Piazza Sant-Eustacchio; +39 06 688 02048
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14. Bar del Cappuccino
Coffee of choice: Hand-decorated cappuccino or cold cappuccino served in a glass
Owner and barman Luigi Santoro makes the best cappuccino downtown: delicate, tasty and pleasant to look at.
He’s a kind of coffee artist, sketching in the coffee flowers, apples and hearts. The cafe, small and snug, serves delicious pastrami pizzas with mozzarella and broccoli.
Serena Roberti, a university student, comes in the evenings. “This place totally relaxes you, the cappuccinos are so yummy,” she says.
Perfect for a quick snack and walk, it’s located in the popular Hebrew ghetto along the Tiber River.
50 Via Arenula; +39 06 6880 6042
Coffee of choice: Espresso with hazelnut or white chocolate cream
ReCafe is a modern city cafe with great decor and a glossy atmosphere in the heart of Rome’s shopping center. The glass window entrance faces Augustus’ Mausoleum.
With wide dining rooms on two floors, it’s a meeting point for young people and office workers.
The white chocolate cream espresso might not look good in your calorie diary, but it’s a must.
36 Piazza Augusto Imperatore; +39 06 681 34730
12. Antigua Tazza d’Oro Coffee House
Coffee of choice: “Biological” espresso
Tazza d’Oro thrives on its location and ambiance. Located in front of the Pantheon, it roasts its own coffee and ships it across the world, even as far as Australia.
You can enjoy your coffee slush while taking a glance at the colorful boutique right behind the bar – it sells coffee packages and blends.
The master mix is the Queen of Coffees, made from eight Arabica varieties. According to client Maria Rossi, “It’s the best cafe in town because it simply tastes of home.”
84 Via degli Orfani; +39 06 678 9792
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Coffee of choice: Glass espresso (creamy espresso served in a glass, no sugar)
Owner Nazzareno Giolitti likes his espresso in a small, glass cup so he can feel the temperature in his hand, see the color and ensure the creamy layer is just the right depth.
At Giolotti tourists from all over the world mingle with politicians – the cafe has been nicknamed the “second parliament” – and you might even bump into President Sergio Mattarella.
During World War II it was a meeting point for American soldiers. Now it’s beloved by Michelle Obama and Sharon Stone.
The cafe is also globally renowned for its award-winning ice cream.
40 Via Uffici del Vicario; +39 06 699 1243
Coffee of choice: Espresso or cappuccino
If you’re looking for a cozy place to relax, Caffe Ciampini is it.
Run by the same family for four generations, coffee is made with an artisan mix.
Specialties include croissants, homemade cakes and ice cream. The pistachio flavor is amazing. There’s a great atmosphere inside and outside at the tables lining the piazza.
29 Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina; +39 06 687 3620
9. Canova Tadolini
Coffee of choice: Espresso “marocchino” (chocolate cream, coffee, cocoa powder, cream topping)
How about a coffee in a former artist atelier, surrounded by bronze and marble sculptures?
Canova Tadolini is a museum-bar packed with a casual arrangement of works by 19th-century sculptor Adamo Tadolini.
Chevaliers on horse, naked women, classical busts and fountains overlook leather chairs and white-clothed tables. Here an espresso is slurped amid 150 years of Italian sculpture. A good stop for art lovers.
150A/B Via del Babuino; +39 06 321 10702
Coffee of choice: Espresso
Forget the luxury boutiques and elegant streets near the Spanish Steps – here in Sabatini you’re at the heart of Trastevere, Rome’s lively neighborhood popular for its nightlife.
The coffee here has an aroma that dwells on your taste buds for hours. You can sip-and-go at the shiny wooden bar with artisan floor tiles, or relax outside at the tables facing the area’s most beautiful piazza.
Not too elegant, but real cool. It’s also a chic “trattoria,” a typical Roman restaurant where you eat like a local.
13 Piazza Santa Maria in Trastevere; +39 06 581 8307
7. Sciascia Caffé
Coffee of choice: Crema Caffé - whipped cream with bits of crunchy chocolate
Sciascia is a coffee bar that is about as laid back as a cafe can be.
From the bar counter, which is decorated with coffee beans, to the handmade coffee cups drinks, there’s a definitive retro atmosphere here.
Sciascia Caffé boasts that it’s been making the best coffee in Rome since 1919, and the variety of artisan coffees served here is certainly unique. There’s the Gran Caffé with dark chocolate syrup, Cioccolato Freddo topped with strawberries, rum or Cointreau, and our personal favorite, Crema Caffé, which is whipped cream with chunks of crunchy chocolate.
Via Fabio Massimo 80/a; + 39 063211580
Coffee of choice: Noisette coffee (espresso served with hazelnut ice cream, cocoa powder and cream)
An example of how fabulous scenery can enhance coffee.
Right in front of Bernini’s majestic Four Rivers Fountain, Domiziano is a cafe that enjoys a unique view on Rome’s most showy and spectacular square: Piazza Navona, home to portrait artists and artisans.
The owners have sexed up their cappuccinos and coffees with different ingredients, including a drop of alcohol. The Coffee Twist is a mix of coffee, cream, chocolate and egg liqueur Vov. It’ll give you energy for the whole day.
“What else could you possibly want in life: a great coffee and Bernini!” says fan Lucia Del Piave.
88/89 Piazza Navona; +39 06 6880 6845
Coffee of choice: “Espressino doc” (a special espresso mixed with cocoa powder and whipped cream)
Outdoor tables at Canova face one of Rome’s most scenic and impressive squares: Piazza del Popolo. Inside, it’s glamorous, with sparkling, refurbished interiors, a piano bar and internal garden.
We love the “espressino doc.”
“People from all over the world come here every day because we guarantee top quality. Our coffee machines are checked every day and we make sure the pressure levels are OK,” says director Adriano De Santis.
16/17 Piazza del Popolo;; +39 06 361 2231
4. Caffé Greco
Coffee of choice: Espresso
One of Europe’s oldest cafes, Caffé Greco is located right in front of the Spanish Steps and inside the designer boutiques’ hub.
Here you can sit at the same table where artists and intellectuals such as Goethe, Gogol and Andersen met to exchange ideas.
There’s a Belle Epoque, dreamy atmosphere, inspired by classical paintings. While sipping your dark, strong coffee you may run into Stellario Baccellieri, the cafe’s painter famous for his frescoes.
“I have four espresso here every day, the staff is wonderful,” he says.
86 Via Condotti; +39 06 679 1700
3. Bramante’s Cloister Café Bistrot
Coffee of choice: Bramante Coffee (cocktail of coffee, chocolate cream and powder, cream topping)
Bramante’s Cloister Cafe Bistrot is the only place you’ll be served espresso in a cocktail stem glass.
The Bramante Coffee matches this refined artistic bistro, which enjoys an enviable location: inside the cloister designed by Renaissance artist Bramante.
If sipping your coffee in the lounge, through the window you’ll see Raffaello’s fresco of “The Four Sibyls” in the attached church.
Tough choice where to sit: the bar is modern and electric, but the outside tables lined under the arcade overlooking the cloister offer a sensory experience.
5 Arco della Pace; +39 06 6880 9035
2. The Stravinskij Bar at the Hotel de Russie
Coffee of choice: Espresso served with candied walnuts
This is the place “to see and be seen” in Rome: the Stravinskij Bar is an exclusive classic-contemporary meeting point in one of the city’s best five-star hotels, dating to the 1800s and stylishly renovated.
Brad Pitt has visited, savoring a coffee in the open-air garden, with wrought iron tables and chairs, and at the elegant bar-lounge featuring purple velvet sofas and tall, luminous windows.
9 Via del Babuino; +39 06 3288 8874
Coffee of choice: Espresso.
Tradition, location and treatment make Rosati cafe the best coffee bar in Rome. It enjoys the best view of Piazza del Popolo with the Pincian Gardens above. The espresso is bliss in a cup.
The wrought iron tables outside and sophisticated coffee room with old wooden decor and marble floors of the 1920s create a warm ambiance. There’s a colorful pastry area with some of the best tiramisu in town.
The owners are always there to greet you. It’s right in front of Canova, but many coffee addicts claim this serves a far better cup.
5a Piazza del Popolo; +39 06 322 5859
Silvia Marchetti is a Rome-based freelance reporter and writer. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely hers.
Editor’s note: This article was previously published in 2013. It was reformatted, updated and republished in 2017.