What Can The Italians Teach You About Coffee?

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Established in the 1500s, coffee has developed its own culture in Italy. The day is characterised by coffee rituals:

  • A cappuccino that is drank with breakfast,
  • A caffè macchiato – or two cup – as a pick-me-up in the afternoon, and then
  • An espresso which is enjoyed after dinner.

As with any culture, that of Italian coffee comes with ostensibly mysterious laws. Order a latte, and you’ll get a glass of milk (which is precisely what you ordered). Ask for a cup to go or order a cappuccino after 11 a.m., and you may get an instant tourist label!

Espresso And Italian Coffee Are One And The Same

“Un caffè, per favore” is probably what you would usually hear when an Italian places an order for coffee. In a bar (which is what the Italians call a coffee shop), un caffè (a coffee) is just an espresso; they are synonymous terms.

Unless you would prefer another variant, then you would hear an order for a macchiato, cappuccino, lungo, etc. The word espresso is not often used.

Dark roast, fine ground, tamped and then blasted with pressurised hot water, espresso is the purest coffee that you can get. It’s served in a small and thick porcelain cup with a silky smooth crema (foam) on top. Good espresso is never just bitter. There is a delightful balance of bitterness, tartness, and sweetness (even minus the sugar).

Espresso is what you would usually get from Italy’s omnipresent bar. Also, many homes have a compact espresso machine, where you can just pop in a coffee capsule.

Although espresso is the most recognisable, an Italian home is never without a caffettiera or moka pot. (This type of coffee pot is a stove-top coffee maker which brews coffee by passing boiling water pressurised by steam through ground coffee.)

Italians Treat Coffee Like Food

The Italians treat their coffee as they treat their food. Firstly, mostly untainted— caffè con lo zucchero, semplice (espresso with sugar, simple). Although there are different types of Italian coffee, such as macchiato (“stained” with milk) or corretto (“corrected” with liquor), the star remains the espresso.

Secondly, coffee is a course on its own. It’s perfect for rounding off the beautiful flavours of pasta, meat, cheese, and fruits– just before finishing off the meal with a strong shot of grappa or limoncello.

Understand The Difference Between Bar And Table Service

Most bars in Italy provide both servizio al banco (service at the bar) as well as servizio al tavolo (table service):

  • For bar service, you’ll need to pay in advance at the cash register. After this you’ll take the receipt to the bar to show the barista when you order. Drink your espresso and then move on, particularly at busy times of day when bar space is restricted.
  • For table service where you can comfortably play real money Blackjack, take up a seat and then wait for the staff to take your order. You will be able to linger as long as you’d like and pay when you are ready to leave.

Remember that prices for table service are higher than bar service.