When in Italy… have a cup of coffee
It will probably happen that while on holidays in Italy and in between a stroll in the Roman Forum or a visit to the Sistine Chapel you would like to enjoy a little bit more of Italian culture. You will more likely find a nice Italian bar and order a cappuccino. It that happens in the morning, that will be perfectly normal. However, if you sit down at 5pm and you order a cappuccino, the barman will immediately know that you’re not a local. In Italy to order a cappuccino after 11.30am is quite a heresy.
That’s why is would be useful to read this short and comprehensive guide of how to “have a coffee” in Italy.
First of all, if you order a “coffee” in Italy you will be served a small cup of espresso that you are usually supposed to drink at the counter. This is the “only” coffee you will get.
However, there are many other alternatives that in the land of most famous coffee producers you can find.
So please follow with attention, so you don’t end up ordering a “frappucino with cinnamon and cream”.
Cappuccino is a “morning/breakfast” drink. It’s a coffee in a large cup with hot foamed milk. There are variations of cappuccino that you can ask for and mostly they are: with cocoa on top, not too hot (ital. tiepido) and light cappuccino (which means with just a little bit of coffee).
Caffè-latte is also a breakfast drink and it is usually served in a glass. It is, exactly, a full glass of milk with the foam on top and a cup of espresso in it.
Marocchino is something that you can have any time of the day and it will be served in a cup little bit bigger than an espresso. It is composed of espresso, a sprinkle of cocoa, a spoonful of frothed milk and cocoa on top. The original recipe includes liquid chocolate spread on the inside of the cup.
Latte macchiato is mostly milk with just a “drop” of a coffee and it is lighter in terms of quantity of coffee than caffè- latte. It is usually served in a big glass.
And finally his Majesty, Espresso, that you can order at any time of the day. It can be ristretto – short – or even macchiato, with a drop of cold or hot milk.
You also have the choice of caffè americano, caffè decaf, espresso ristretto (short), espresso corretto (coffee with a drop of liquor in it)
Coffee time in Italian culture can be any time of the day and it is a moment that you share with friends, colleagues or it can be an excuse to invite somebody you like out. Prendere un caffè is, in general, a very easy way to take a break from work or meet someone without too much commitment. There are many ways in which coffee is tangled with Italian culture and traditions, so much that there is a whole “philosophy” of “having a coffee” in Italy. In some parts of Italy you will be served coffee with a glass of water, while in other parts (especially in Naples) they say you shouldn’t have any water after you had the cup of coffee. That’s because you should keep the delicious coffee taste in your mouth.
The “coffee culture” in Italy explains why some Italian brands became so famous all around the world. The first espresso machine was actually invented in Turin in 1884. Shortly after that Lavazza brand was created in Turin in 1895. In 1933, the same year when the first moka pot was invented, Illy caffè brand was born.
Probably the origin of this big cultural imprint that the coffee has on the Italian culture is also the historical fact that the first coffeehouse to open in Europe was in Venice in 1654.
However, in Italy there are many historical places where you still can learn a lot about the local culture and where you can discover some more variations of coffee.
While In Turin and touring the Piazza Castello and Egyptian Museums you should not miss a caffe at Bicerin or while strolling down between Piazza Castello you should stop in Piazza San Carlo and have a delicious marocchino at the bar San Carlo.
In Venice, after your tour at the St Marco’s Basilica or the visit to the Dodge’s Palace you should have a seat in Florian’s Caffe located right on the Piazza San Marco. Here you will have the feeling of being transported in another era. This caffè bar was there side 1720 and you can see the pictures of some famous people who used to hang out here.
A little bit more recent, but shrouded by almost the same historical/misterious veil is caffè Camparino just right next to the Duomo in Milan. After you finish visiting Leonardo’s Last Supper you should have a seat in Jamaica Bar. This café is a meeting point of all the famous artists, artisans, students of the nearby Academy and famous journalists. You will feel a mix of modern and bohemian atmosphere and this will be a cherry on top after you visit this beautiful part of Milan called Brera. While in Rome you should pay a visit to the Antico Caffè Greco, just few meters from the Spanish Steps. Together with a delicious coffee you will have a chance to visit one of the most beautiful private art collections inside this historical bar. The price you will pay for coffee, by tacit agreement, will include also the visit to the art collection.
A little bit more affordable is Caffè Sant’Eustachio, near the Pathneon, where just after to cross the doorstep you will smell the scent of coffee beans from all over the world. In Naples, coffee is has deeper roots than anywhere else in Italy. It’s not by chance that there is a caffè called caffè napoletano and it’s made in a particular pot that you can still find in some shops in Naples. Therefore, while visit the Piazza del Plebiscito, you must stop at the Gran Caffè Gambrinus. The bar was founded after the union of all Italian regions, but during the Belle Epoque it gains a wider attention of the people of Naples and European aristocratic and artistic personalities.
Whether you are an art lover or passionate about the local culture and traditions or even a foodie, just choose your coffee bar carefully, because otherwise you will miss much more than a good cup od coffee.