Yes, you read it right. I did not drink an espresso but ate one with spoon today and it was amazing. Here is how I came across it.
I had gone to interview the Italian coffee roaster in India, Lavazza, for my assignment. Official details aside, we started talking about coffee culture in Italy. After Tamil Nadu, the next best place I had coffee was Italy, not surprisingly. Italy is a homeland of world famous coffee and Italians are known for drinking as much coffee as wine. If you thought there is no one who can beat born and bred Tamizhian in drinking coffee, they could give you a close competition.
But the way Italians and Tamils drink coffee are different, I learnt after my talk with Silvio Zaccareo, Managing Director of Lavazza India. “Being a Italian, I love coffee. We need at least 4-5 on average a day to get by,” he said. But the quantity of coffee Italians consume is way different. If we need to measure by cups I would say my one cup of coffee will equal two of theirs. The quantity is small and mostly they prefer espresso.
For a coffee addict like me, morning and evening coffee is a must-have. I cannot survive a day without them. A cup after breakfast and dinner are just bonuses. Also having coffee after a grand dinner is common in India. But that is not the Italian way.
“Having coffee early morning, after breakfast and post-lunch are quite common. It is not in our culture to have coffee after dinner and evening. But having an espresso after dinner is catching up slowly in Italy,” Silvio further explained. Well, that explains the weird looks people gave us in Italy, when we inquired where we can get a take-away cappuccino after our dinner in Rome. Then again, even if I had known I would find it very difficult to compromise on my coffee-drinking habit. But it is always good to know about other cultures.
“Would you like to have our specialty cafe caviar before you leave?” he asked. I’m always game for anything related to coffee and so I said an enthusiastic, “Yes!”
I could smell coffee even as I entered the pristine white room, where there were at least 10 different coffee machines were arranged. It was dreamy with heavenly aroma of coffee. I was told this is room where people would be given training to be a barista. Head trainer and barista was making cafe caviar, using molecular gastronomy.
I have seen molecular gastronomy techniques used in reality cooking shows like Masterchef Australia. So when I witnessed barista making coffee, I felt like a kid watching a chemistry experiment, excited.
This is how cafe caviar is made. First concentrated espresso mixed with sugar is poured over a small box. Then it is covered with a lid that contains small capsules attached to a huge syringe. Once the position is correct, the barista applied pressure. You could see these small capsules filled with espresso.
The capsules are then placed over a water that contains calcium chloride. “Espresso contains alginic acid, obtained from sea weed. Calcium Chloride added to water and alginic help the espresso solidify into a jelly,” the barista said. Once it solidifies, it is washed in fresh water and then served, in spoons.
Caviar is a delicacy made from fish eggs. “Since the appearance of this cafe is same as that of caviar, we named it Cafe Caviar,” barista explained.
Barista pouring espresso on a plate
They indeed looked like roe or fish eggs. For people who don’t know how fish eggs are like, it looked like a brown javvarisi (sago) you put in Tamil delicacy called payasam. It was brown and transparent. I just wanted to squeeze them.
“We developed this recipe for our special clients,” Silvio said. “Why don’t you have a taste?” he prompted me.
I took a spoon, gave it a second to think about it. I love coffee. With milk. Espresso was never really my cup of tea. Then I put it in my mouth.The taste was mesmerising. I did not remember taking second, third or my fourth serving of Cafe Caviar. Between my first and the fourth serving of cafe caviar, I changed my opinion about espresso. I carried it the sensation with me all way to work.
In my mind I was already ordering my next cup: ‘Can I get an espresso, please? The Italian way, but with sugar.’