It would be an understatement to say that Italians are passionate about coffee.
When I first met my Italian husband, I remember him constantly telling me that he's meeting a client at the bar, no matter what time of the day it was. I thought it strange that he was constantly in a bar with a client, I thought perhaps he drank too much! Then I learnt that the word 'bar' basically means a cafe...
There are SO many 'bars' in Italy, it stresses the point that Italians are obsessed with coffee. The Italians usually drink their coffees at the bar standing up, they don't waste time sitting down and reading the paper with their friends. Instead they just pop into a bar five to six times a day for a quick cup at the counter. Often a glass of water is served with the coffee, which must be drank before the coffee, to clean your palate.
The 'barista's' are properly trained in the skills of making the perfect espresso, cappuccinos and other coffees. There are even world barista competitions!
There are many unwritten rules of Italian coffee culture. The first being, never order a cappuccino after 11am. Italians think of a cappuccino as a breakfast beverage. When I first moved to Italy I made the big 'mistake' of ordering a cappuccino after my meal, I will never forget the look of horror on my husband's face… A few years later, my mother came to visit me and made the same 'mistake' and got the same look of horror from me…
Another unwritten rule - never ask for an espresso, just ask for a caffè. It's obvious (to them) that you are asking for an espresso when saying caffè.
There are SO many different ways of ordering coffee it's amazing! Here are some little pointers.
Caffè - means coffee in Italian, but what they mean by this is an espresso.
Caffè Americano - espresso with hot water added, the closest to a filter coffee you can get.
Caffè doppio - double espresso. It isn't really an Italian habit. Italians drink lots of coffee through out the day.
Caffè macchiato - means 'stained' or 'spotted' coffee, which is an espresso with a dash of hot foamy milk. A macchiato can be with latte caldo or latte freddo (warm or cold milk).
Caffè corretto - espresso with a shot of liquor, usually grappa.
Marocchino – with cocoa powder and milk foam.
You get lots of other specific instructions too such as:
Ristretto – short espresso.
Lungo – long espresso.
In tazza grande – in the cappuccino cup.
Al vetro – in the glass.
Schiumato – with milk foam.
Con panna – with whipped cream.
Shakerato – shaken with ice.
Freddo – iced.
I laugh whenever I walk into a bar and listen to the people ordering their specific coffee - each person in the bar will request their coffee in a different way. The funniest would be my husbands friend, who always asks for 'espresso lungo in tazza grande calda, con di fianco aqua calda'. (a long espresso in a big cup with some hot water on the side).
If you visit any Italian house, you are sure to find a ''moka' - the famous aluminium stove-top percolator, designed and produced by Bialetti in 1933. The design has changed very little since it was first introduced. However times are changing and now many people go for the espresso machines, but if you ask any true Italian, they will say that the moka produces the best coffee of all.
There is a Napoleon tradition which is unfortunately slowly dying out called 'caffee sospeso', meaning suspended coffee. It is the practice of paying for 2 coffees but only drinking one, and leaving the other for a stranger to enjoy for free. Because every Italian loves good coffee, and there is no better feeling than that of sharing a cup with a stranger.
I have to say that once having coffee in Italy, coffee never tastes the same anywhere else…… WHY? Most places outside of Italy have the same coffee machines so why is it that the coffee doesn't taste the same? If you ask a true Italian this question, they will say it's because of the water, and the knowledge of the barista to use the machine correctly. Whatever the reason, I love Italian coffee!