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A new coffee shop in the East Village is finally getting coffee right

By Elian Zach

As the summer approaches, my coffee consumption habits usually shift from hot and comforting to cold and refreshing. Since both my lactose intolerance and passion for prancing around in skimpy clothing won't facilitate devilishly creamy/sugary/swirly drinks, I usually settle for a good dose of caffeine on ice. However, someone needs to face the giant purple elephant in the room and state the obvious: coffee isn't America's forte.

Italians, on the other hand, know good coffee, and Giovanni Finotto, 26, the owner of the new East Village Artisan Espresso Bar, I am coffee, is a coffee professor. I paid Giovanni a visit on a Monday, the day the tiny shop is always closed, for a very informal interview about what makes his coffee so incredible.

To get an authentic experience, read this interview in a dashing Italian accent.

What made you start I am coffee?

My brother and I wanted to start a project involving the Italian food tradition. Something very different than what already existed, more complete in a way, which focuses on one product. This time it was coffee, and for that we traveled all around Italy to find the families of artisans, who have carried the tradition for generations. They are the only real access to what the product used to be back in the day, before the industry mystification that gave birth to the coffee counter-culture.The new model of espresso is all about the thickness of the foam and density of the espresso.

Going back to the roots.

Yes. That's why it's called I am coffee, implying that it is the original. Changing people's perspective is tough, but it's mostly about education. In Italy, people think they know what real coffee should taste like, but here in New York, the culinary capital of the world, people are more open to being reeducated.

So how did you find out all the real coffee secrets?

We traveled around Italy for two years. My brother, Nicola, managed to convince these artisans to share their techniques, the most precious thing they had, with us. We explained that this project was a platform that every artisan could pour his knowledge into and get unique access to the entire culture. Every input that goes into this platform is checked to be 100 percent authentic for that reason.

What's essentially different about what you do versus what everyone else does?

First we wanted to know what were the first identities of the espresso, cappuccino, latté macchiato, etc. when they were invented. What was the technique used. For instance, we found that what we called "cappuccino" today was very different from what it used to be. Only one guy we met during our trip knew the original technique of making a cappuccino. As you will notice, our cappuccino is monophasic, meaning it has a single texture and density, rather than milk and foam. It's all one cream. These days the focus has shifted from the tradition to the visual appeal. They wanted it to look sexier, that's how latté art was invented. It compromises the identity of the product and is completely wrong. That's just one example but there are many.

Can't you see it as the evolution of coffee rather than a counter-culture?

It can be. But if you change the identity of the original, you get a completely different product, so you should give it a different name. Otherwise, you lose a tradition, a culture, and the history behind it.

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