Today I learned an interesting coffee tidbit from a couple of Italian friends and coffee connoisseurs; the best coffee in Italy, can often be found in the rest stops on the highway (Autogrill). In fact, some Autogrill/rest stop restaurants apparently even make it into Italian Guide Books!We were on our way to Sestri Levante a small beach town about 45 minutes from Genova, and as it was only 8 am, caffè was on our minds. I admit I was a bit surprised to hear this info as in France and the US highway coffee is among the worst that can be purchased anywhere.
Well, as was explained to me, the volume of consumers is so steady and high that the non-stop action gets the barista into a groove, and since the machines are well maintained the coffee and milk stay fresh. Also, apparently there are strict quality controls on Auto Grills to regulate cleanliness and proper functionality of the espresso machines.
The crowd that received us when we arrived at our Auto Grill at 8:15 am seemed to confirm this theory. The line to pay the cashier (in Italy at the rest stop you pay first and then give your ticket to the barista) was 10-people thick and the sipping throngs around the bar seemed content. Luckily, the Italians move in and out quickly making place for the new arrivals. Coffee is a quick and natural start to the day, but rarely does it involve lingering. You order, you get, you stand at the bar, you quickly drink it down, you move out of the way to leave an opening for the next coffee drinker.
Coffee In italy is almost as important as pasta, maybe more (depending on who you talk to) so I guess it should be no surprise to see that even at the Auto Grill, quality coffee is no laughing matter (apparently the pastries are also up to snuff, as is the restaurant if you would like a full meal). And the price tag? Well, this is sort of a laughing matter, or should I say, smiling? Under a Euro for a cup of coffee, and around a Euro for a cappuccino! No advantage taken here, honest prices for quality product. I can attest that you will not be disappointed. Drink up!
Slow Travel Article on Autogrills