In Italy, coffee isn’t just coffee….
Welcome back to the South!
May 29, 2021
MY unexpected ITALIAN LIFE
October 11, 2021

Coffee is probably the most diffuse beverage worldwide and it is drunk in different ways in every corner of the globe. True. However, coffee in Italy is more than just something people drink – it is part of the culture and lifestyle of the country. Like in many other countries, coffee starts off the day on the right foot, but in Italy, at least for adults, coffee – a proper caffé espresso – is enough to get you going.

No need for a big breakfast! And here we’re talking about “la tazzina” (the little cup), which means an approximately 5cm high cup with a 5cm diameter containing about 3 tablespoons of dense black coffee with a layer of velvety dark brown foam on top; spooning it off is a delight ! Some people put a couple of teaspoons of sugar in it to make it nice and sweet (dolce), others like it bitter (amaro). If, on the other hand, you want something double-strength, you ask for caffé ristretto , which means condensed coffee and comes down to something like a couple of tablespoons of coffee concentrate on the bottom of a little cup. And you gulp it down hot. Some Italians don’t like their coffee in a cup, but hot in a small glass instead (nel bicchiere). If you like a little bit of milk in your coffee, ask for a caffé macchiato (stained coffee ) . And if you like more hot milk and just a little coffee, then a latte macchiato (stained milk), which comes in a tall glass,  is what you should order.  Now you can also get caffé ginseng (espresso with ginseng extract for a healthy touch). And if you can’t take caffeine, you can order caffé decaffeinato (caffeine-free coffee) or caffé d’orzo (barley coffee).  Some people prefer their coffee cold, so they choose caffé freddo (cold coffee, out of the fridge) which also comes in a small glass. No ice, unless you ask for it .

And if you can’t take caffeine, you can order caffé decaffeinato (caffeine-free coffee) or caffé d’orzo (barley coffee). Some people prefer their coffee cold, so they choose caffé freddo (cold coffee, out of the fridge) which also comes in a small glass. No ice, unless you ask for it . A new option is  caffé shakerato – espresso with crushed ice put in a shaker, like the one used for cocktails, shaken vigorously for a few seconds and then strained into a tall glass.  Italians find these two cold versions refreshing on hot days in the summer, never during the rest of the year.

If are looking for something a tiny bit more substantial, you can have your espresso with a little froth, like the milk foam the barista whips up for cappuccino. That’s called an espressino (little espresso) in the south and marocchino (Maroccan)

in the north and it’s served in a glass. This is just one example of regional differences in Italy which often regard food. If you prefer to start the day with a nice big cup (not a mug!) , then you can opt for a cappuccino, which is real espresso with creamy milk foam poured slowly on top of the coffee in the cup (about 7cm high, 8cm in diameter) .

By the way, did you know that the word “cappuccino” refers to capuchin friars who used to shave the hair on top of their heads, leaving the rest of the hair short, which looks just like what you see in your cup when you order cappuccino

To make it more special, they will ask you if you want a sprinkle of cocoa  (cacao) on your cappuccino to add a chocolaty touch. Nowadays, skilled baristas can even pour the foam to make a heart-shape or swirls come out, as if by magic. Last, but not least, a novelty: the mocaccino, which is an irresistible combination of cappuccino, whipped cream and chocolate. To die for! Traditionally, the favourite place for a nice Italian caffé, be it an espresso or any of the other wonders described above, is “il bar”, which is not a bar, a dark place where people spend the evening drinking alcoholic beverages! It’s a well-lit place with a long counter where customers stand ( no stools like in an American bar), order their caffé and gulp it down nice and hot in a second (like a shot of vodka). Next to the cup, they give you a little glass of water to refresh your mouth before you pay and walk out, energized to face the day – all in a matter of minutes. As we said before, il caffé is part of Italian way of life and it is affordable for practically anyone – from one euro to one and a half euros at the counter. In Naples, customers can leave the money for a cup of coffee for anyone who cannot afford it. This is known as “caffé sospeso” (suspended coffee). Because everyone has the right to enjoy a nice cup of coffee, Italian style!

 If you want to sit down and be served, the cost can be twice as much or more. Then the place is called a “caffè”  or “caffetteria” ( not “cafeteria”, which is a completely different place !). In a caffè, you can take it easy, have a chat and relax in pleasant surroundings. You can also get wonderful pastries that are perfect with coffee –and not only coffee – or appetizing savoury snacks. To invite someone for coffee, you might say: ” Ci prendiamo un caffé?” (Shall we have a coffee?) or “Ti posso offrire un caffé? ” (Can I treat you to a coffee?). A nice way to socialize! There are some famous historic cafés all over Italy. In the past, they were meeting points of artists, intellectuals, politicians and, generally speaking, they were frequented by upper class men while the ladies tended to gather in tea rooms. Just to give you an idea, here are a few names: Caffè Gambrinus in Naples, Caffè Greco in Rome, Caffè Florian in Venice, Caffè Al Bicerin in Turin, Caffè Savini in Milan. Check them out online – and include them in your Italian holiday plans!