Florence is a marvel, a living museum and homage to some of humanity’s most beautiful artistic achievements. From the stunning Duomo to the majestic Palazzi and the exqusite collection of Rennaisance art in the Uffizi Gallery, there is so much to see and discover that you’ll probably end up with calloused feet at the end of the day.
As someone who always seeks out a local specialty coffee bar wherever I go, I have often lamented the lack of such places in cities like Venice and elsewhere in Italy. Florence, however, has no shortage of beautiful cafés and many of the city’s own are run by Ditta Artigianale, a local roaster that rose to fame thanks to its illustrious founder’s unwavering belief that specialty coffee can thrive in Italy despite its history as the birthplace of the cheap and ubiquitous €1 espresso.
The first dose of caffeine I received from Ditta was at their outlet on Via dello Sprone near the Ponte Veccio while searching for a restaurant with my parents. I was instantly struck by the beautiful design, the complete bar that includes a cocktail menu and the lovely terrace. I promised I’d be back another time to enjoy a full breakfast (something that is rare in Italy) and a coffee.
Francesco and I had already been texting regarding when might be the best time to coincide with him at one of his cafés to catch up and get to know his business a bit better. After a lunch on our third day in the city, I left my parents to go shopping and wandered towards the newest Ditta location that I had been told was housed inside a former church. Given how Italian churches are still mostly in use, unlike their Dutch counterparts, I couldn’t imagine what this might look like.
The new flagship store is a bit off the beaten track, which means that there are fewer crowds and more locals. As I approached the space, it didn’t immediately reveal itself to be what I had envisioned. It has a terrace and a modern shop front with a mix of retro and modern elements inside. A beautiful blue Victoria Arduino Black Eagle is the centerpiece of the bar while a large vitrine displays all the treats on offer. As I stood there introducing myself, I was altered to the fact that Franscesco was around and he immediately came out to greet me.
“Welcome to Ditta Artigianale,” he beamed. “Come, I need to show you the back.” Passing the kitchen that separates the front from the back part of the café, I spotted a beautifully designed bathroom followed by a smaller area with tables that leads out into a courtyard. Yet, the piece de resistance is the gorgeous main hall at the back that indeed, used to be an old church and now houses the main training center and additional seating. Francesco led me outside to show me the cloisters and began to detail the ardous labour that the renovation of the space cost. “This place is originally from the 1300’s,” Francesco said while sweeping around with his hand. “It was a chapel and then became a boarding house for the poor before it was abandoned. It took us four years or meticulous restoration and renovation to convert it.”
The details are astonishing. From ancient wooden beams above the veranda to an beautiful stone fountain, many of the original features were lovingly restored to their former glory. Inside, the high ceiling that is juxtaposed against a modern steel structure above the bar gives a wonderful airy feel while hinting at the rich history of the place. Soon, I was introduced to the wonderful international team that runs Ditta’s show and we sat there chatting for a good half hour while many visitors came inside and stood in awe of the space.
As I sat there sipping on a cup of a gorgeous Bolivian coffee from Finca La Llama, I couldn’t help but wonder if this might really be one of the most beautiful coffee bars I’ve ever seen. Francesco certainly didn’t hide his pride while he assured me that he, humbly, thought it was. Naturally, the amount of red tape they had to cut through to get all the permits was mind boggling. This is, after all, Italy where almost everything is a museum. “We found a piece of our heritage and by carefully and lovingly reinventing this place, we allow our history to continue being written,” Francesco suggested.
There is no doubt in my mind that businesses like Ditta can have a huge impact on the Italian psyche when it comes to changing peoples’ perception of what coffee can be. I know that people like Francesco or my friends from Orsonero in Milan have not had it easy trying to convince locals to pay more than €1 for an espresso but a temple like this will undoubtedly change minds. I, for one, wish I could visit more often because everything was simply divine.