As you sit sipping a cup of cappuccino or latte, it is not uncommon for our mind to drift away to the streets of Italy that are drenched in the sweet smell of freshly brewed coffee. Most of our favorite coffee traditions are adaptations of Italian coffee culture because coffee has been such an integral part of Italian life. They have inspired the world with their art of coffee drinking to such an extent that when the world discusses coffee, it’s nearly impossible to exclude Italy from the conversation.
Right from the style of drinking, the terminology, the blends, and even the machinery, they have left a mark in the coffee industry. The cobblestone streets of Italy are never complete without the distinctive aroma of coffee that wafts through the air, and every Italian must start the day with an espresso or macchiato, and trust me the Italians, will never compromise on that.
Let me take you through 5 important traditions of Italian coffee culture and you can take notes for a future visit to, the beautiful country.
- Café or Bar?
What we would commonly refer to as a café, is known as a bar in Italy, so don’t be surprised if you find one too many bars out there. Italians normally start their morning with a coffee and a delicious pastry at a bar. The Coffee is usually consumed standing up at the bar since it is a small shot of espresso, it takes a few minutes to drink it, no one really stays inside the bar for too long.
Coffee is normally served alongside a glass of water to cleanse your palate before and after. Yes, the Italians are really strict with their coffee protocols.
- Coffee is enjoyed by Italians multiple times a day.
Coffee is akin to a ‘feeling’ and ‘emotion’ rather than a drink. Coffee lovers seldom begin their day without a caffeinated ‘kick’, the benefits of this adored beverage, extends itself as a post-lunch digestive that can eliminate the feeling of lethargy
Drinking coffee is also associated with socialization in Italy, you will always hear one saying, ‘let’s have a coffee’ or ‘let me offer you a cup of coffee’. Unlike other countries, coffee is not restricted to a morning or evening beverage but rather as a common drink that can be served and relished irrespective of time.
- Milk-based Coffee before 11 am
While espresso is a classic choice that can be relished irrespective of the time of the day, milky coffees such as Cappuccino or Caffè Latte are relished in the morning to avoid indigestion, preferably before 11 am. Healthy digestion is an important part for Italians. They have an entire category of drinks called ‘Aperitivi’, which warm the stomach before a meal, and ‘Digestivi’, which ease digestion after the meal. While the rest of the world, follows this very differently, the coffee consuming pattern of Italian’s has always been like this.
- The Coffee vocabulary is not the same
You would be in a real pickle, if you used the typical coffee vocabulary in your country, when in Italy. If you order a latte at an Italian cafe, you’ll end up with a glass of milk, this is because latte translates to “milk” in Italian. Similarly, Caffè, normally means coffee, but in Italy, it’s an espresso. These common mistakes have made it a common practice for Baristas' to reconfirm orders with tourists in order to avoid a mistake.
These are a few common coffee names in Italy, that will definitely expand your coffee repertoire:
Caffè - Single shot of espresso.
Caffè Americano - It’s espresso that’s been watered down a bit and it’s served in a bigger cup than the tiny espresso cups.
Cappuccino - Is 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foam.
Doppio - A double espresso, for those who need more than a small Caffè
Freddo – Is an espresso that’s been either left out to cool down or put in the fridge. It’s served cold or cool.
Caffè Latte - A tall glass of steamed milk with a shot of espresso. Always be sure to add the word “Caffè” or else you will end up with a glass of milk.
Lungo - Meaning long coffee, it has more water in it than a caffè, but it’s water that’s been passed through the same coffee grounds rather than just hot water added later like the americano.
Macchiato - Derived from the Italian word “stained”, this drink is a shot of espresso with a drop or two of hot milk.
Shakerato – A shot of espresso mixed with milk, ice, and sugar in a shaker and served with the foam scooped from the shaker on top.
- Coffee for a Stranger
My personal favorite is the ‘Caffè Sospeso’ or “suspended coffee” tradition that began in Naples and later spread to the rest of Italy. It’s simply the act of buying a coffee for a stranger, who can enjoy it later for free. As every Italian loves’ coffee, there’s no better way to share this joy with a complete stranger who may not always be able to afford a cup of pure bliss.
These are just a few of the many beautiful coffee traditions that the country follows. Italians did not discover Coffee, but their immense love and passion for coffee, sometimes makes you think that they did. They have created a coffee culture that cannot be matched by any other place in the world.
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