“I want people to really understand what it feels like to be in Italy and to have the typical Italian breakfast.”
Have you ever sipped a drink from Dunkin’ and thought, This is great, but I sure wish they had manually ground the coffee beans instead of using an automated machine!
Neither have I. But after trying the espresso at Kicco Italian Coffee near North Station, I can tell you this: you can really taste the difference.
Unlike every other coffee shop in Boston, Kicco does things “the Italian way,” owner Vittorio Wurzburger says. The shop serves customers who drive all the way from Providence just to get a sip.
While the store’s glass facade and pristine, white interior fit right in with the architecture of North Station and TD Garden, its atmosphere transports visitors into a Neapolitan coffee bar: employees and customers converse in Italian, aromas of espresso and pastries fill the air, and portions are small but punchy.
“There are a lot of Italian places,” Wurzburger says. “Most of them are Americanized, so they do things in a different way.”
Wurzburger, 26, opened the cafe in September of this year. Most of Kicco’s products— coffee, espresso, pastries, pizzas—are imported from Naples, Italy, where Wurzburger’s family’s company, Caffè Kenon, has been roasting coffee for 130 years.
Located next to Tasty Burger outside North Station, Kicco is Caffè Kenon’s first foray into America’s coffee market and Wurzburger’s attempt to introduce Bostonians to traditional Neapolitan coffee.
Despite the North End’s Italian cultural influences, Wurzburger says many coffee spots use low-quality beans and automatic machines: employees just press a button and computers do the rest.
Kicco uses beans grown in Latin America specifically for Caffè Kenon. The beans are shipped to Naples to be roasted in custom machines by Wurzburger’s family, then shipped to Kicco. Every time a customer orders a coffee, Kicco employees grind the beans at that very moment.
As for American coffee traditions, according to worldcoffeeportal.com, 64% of Americans visit a coffee shop at least once per week. Italian coffee bars can be just as fast-paced as American drive-thrus, but Kicco employee Maria Mija says they have noticeably different atmospheres. In Italy, “the coffee guy can make friends while he’s doing like thousands of coffees per day,” Mija says. “It’s the Italian way… everybody knows each other when you walk in a bar.”
As an entrepreneur, Wurzburger says he understands why many Italian-Americans who open cafes in the US opt to Americanize their products: How else could they compete in an industry dominated by titans like Starbucks and Dunkin’?
But for a family that has roasted coffee across continents and through three centuries, Wurzburger says they are concerned with more than profits.
“I want people to really understand what it feels like to be in Italy and to have the typical Italian breakfast and typical Italian coffee as we do in Italy,” Wurzburger says. “Everything you find here feels like being in Italy.”
Part of that experience involves teaching. Kicco’s staff answers questions from guests all day about coffee, pastries, and Italian culture. For example, despite popular belief, according to Wurzburger, espresso actually contains less caffeine than a regular cup of coffee. Kicco staff members explain daily that, yes, espresso shots are supposed to be that small.
Wurzburger says American cafe culture is saturated with misconceptions about what coffee is and is not, or what it should be and should not be.
“My goal is to change the perception of this,” he says. “It’s a big challenge.”