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The traditional way of preparing coffee in Italy is using a manual lever coffee machine, which allows for precise control over the temperature and pressure of the water, resulting in a rich and flavorful cup of coffee. But there’s more to it than just technique. In some cafés in Sicily, coffee is not simply a craft but a cultural artifact, creating it considered a work of art.

Though Palermo has its fair share of coffee, it’s not always easy to find cafés where these traditions are honored with care and diligence. The Bar del Corso is one such hidden gem in the heart of Palermo. Located on the bustling Via Vittorio Emmanuel – the oldest street in Palermo, where every vendor vies for attention – its modest storefront does not catch the eye at first glance. This no-frills café complements the unassuming appearance of its mild-mannered and no-nonsense owner, Baldo, a man known for his authenticity and good quality coffee.

During a recent visit, Baldo begins our chat by explaining what the word “bar” (which also means café in Italian) means to him. “The origin of the word ‘bar’ comes from the barrier, and that is what this counter does,” he says. Showing the demarcated areas, he adds: “I make the coffee here, and people drink it there. The gossip and chit-chat happens on the other side.” Drinking a coffee at Baldo’s is not just about the coffee, but also about social rituals and interactions, and a code of conduct that must be followed when approaching him with a request or to start up a conversation.

Baldo’s café is a place where simple things are done well. The regulars come here because Baldo doesn’t offer a pretentious coffee experience, nor does he try to woo them with customer service theatrics. “Baldo is not the typical barista one would expect,” says one. “He doesn’t talk it up with customers or crack jokes to make them laugh.”

The café – like the street it’s on – has survived several historical epochs. Baldo’s father opened Bar del Corso in 1950, and Baldo took over when he returned to Sicily after having lived in Torino, in the north. The café was already well established, but it became all the more noteworthy as Baldo decided to focus exclusively on serving coffee. Years went by, and in 2005, the place underwent a complete refurbishment at the request of the municipality.

Baldo didn’t use this opportunity to modernize the café. The interior remains bare-boned in terms of design, but it has a charm to it. The tables, unadorned; the sink, full of stained coffee cups at all times; no sugar in convenient sachets (and best not to ask for it), but available only in a nondescript bowl. The only decorative features are presents given to Baldo by customers – artists and admirers who frequent this small yet iconic bar. “I come here regularly,” says another one of Baldo’s loyal customers. “After chatting a little with Baldo, I offered to create an art piece with coffee grounds for the bar. The whole piece is about interpreting the future, and I added horns which are used as protective amulets here in Sicily.”

Despite his credentials as a local icon, Baldo has harsh words for the city he serves: too much hustle, too much talk. He holds down his modest fort with great humility and an endearing appreciation of time, of slowness. Baldo has a unique approach to serving coffee; there is a meditative approach to his work – a certain respect for his craft that renders the preparation a ceremony in and of itself. “If people don’t have the time to wait for their coffee, they can go to the next bar,” he says.

A coffee at Baldo’s is a bit like his words: There is a little bitterness, an acidity – but served with warmth and a bit of sweetness, if that’s how you like your coffee (and you better, since there’s no other kind here).

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Ségolène BulotFrancesco Cipriano

Published on March 03, 2023

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