In the country that invented the steam-powered espresso machine, coffee is a sacred drink. There’s a code of etiquette for ordering and drinking that separates the locals from the tourists. But persevere: the coffee here is probably the best in the world, so it’s worth the effort. And muscling your way in to the noisy throng of a coffee bar, shouting your order at the barista and knocking back a dose of pure Arabica among the locals is a truly Italian experience.
Want to drink coffee like an Italian? Read on for our 5 golden rules.
Italians don’t mess about when it comes to the black stuff and, unless it’s breakfast time, generally won’t pollute it with milk. Forget your cold-brew sour cherry frappe: if you order un caffe, you will get the purest distillation of it – a single espresso. You could try for a corretto (‘corrected’), which comes with a shot of grappa, or an Americano if you want something to linger over. Cappuccinos and caffe lattes are acceptable, although they will mark you out as a tourist. Bear in mind if you ask for a 'latte', you'll get a glass of warm milk, so be specific if you want a milky coffee – and don’t order it after 10am.
If you’re the kind of person who loves a coffee but gets a little shaky after your third, you’ll only need one Italian coffee per day. The most popular type is Arabica, roasted to a dark, slightly bitter finish with notes of hazelnut and a dense, brown crema.
Those bucket-sized cups of long coffee favoured by Starbucks and Costa do not exist in Italy: cappuccinos and Americanos come in 180ml measures, with a small amaretto biscuit if you’re drinking them somewhere posh. It may come accompanied by a glass of water. Drink this first, it’s there to cleanse the palate.
If there’s one thing you won’t see on a trip to Italy, it’s people walking around with hot drinks in paper cups. The concept of a takeaway coffee doesn’t exist – if you want it quickly, you gulp it down in three mouthfuls, standing up at the bar among other coffee drinkers. The process can be over in three minutes. This is also standard practice if you’re not in a hurry.
Happily, the quality of coffee is consistent throughout the country – whether you’re wedged into a Neapolitan bar during rush hour or sat outside a cafe in a whitewashed village in Puglia. But if you’re visiting Rome, make a pilgrimage to Sant’ Eustachio cafe, which has been roasting its own beans and serving up coffees since 1938. It’s worth the queue. In Turin, home of Lavazza, check out the 18th-century Fiorio Cafe, whose regulars have historically included Friedrich Nietzsche and Mark Twain. In Taormina in Sicily, head to the Bam Bar for a morning caffe with a revered granita breakfast. In Naples, make a point of visiting the Gran Caffe Gambrinus, where you pay for your coffee, take your receipt up to the barista counter and drink your water, then your coffee, in the customary style: quickly.