It’s a stiflingly hot Italian July afternoon, but only a little hazy sun filters into the room. Outside, all is quiet on this side street in the old city of Modena. Inside, a candle has been lit in front of each of the five men sitting around the dark oak table. Overhead, ancient exposed beams sag from centuries of weight.

One by one, the men pass around small numbered vials of a viscous, almost opaque liquid. Silently, each man holds his vial up to the candle and swirls it to examine the “shirt,” the espresso-colored goo that slowly runs down the side of the glass. He records the hue. Then he sniffs, and notes the intense mixture of sour, caramel, and coffee scents.

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