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  The entire time I've spent in Italy -- not one espresso with any 
  trace of bitterness. Every cup of coffee was excellent to my taste."
Italian espresso is good because of consistent dosing. If you go in a coffee bar in Italy, chances are they don't have a grinder in house. They're using vacuum-sealed pre-ground coffee, and dosing very exactly before making espresso.

The industrial grinders they use to pre grind all of that espresso you were drinking give extremely consistent grinds, and the packaging lets it sit on shelves for months at a time. It's not even particularly high-quality coffee.

Don't take my word for it though:

  In Italy, espresso is a mass consumption item, mostly made from 
  coffees of the same low quality as is found in supermarkets 
  everywhere. Since the aromas of such coffees are not all that 
  great, staling is of little consequence, while keeping doses 
  precise and yields high is of great consequence, since one 
  needs to extract every iota of caramel to make the shots 
  palatable. So the ground coffee sits in dosers going stale, 
  but is precisely dosed, 6.5 grams into single baskets, 13 
  into doubles.

This makes a lot of sense. My home coffee has gotten better as I've gotten more consistent with my procedure. (Fill the same kettle to the exact same point. Take it off when the whistle is just audible, move it to a cold burner, set the timer for 2 minutes...etc...)

What this also means is that I should be able to buy the same packets and have access to Italian espresso.

This also makes bad American office coffee even more exasperating. Why is it that US office coffee is so often sour and trashy tasting? Why is it that Italians can do it, but Americans fail? I suspect it's because the former population doesn't care so much.

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