So it’s time for a confession, I am a total coffee addict! I have worked at a coffee shop in Minnesota for 4 and a half years, but I have been drinking coffee for a lot longer than that. Coming to Italy, I knew that I was in for a whole new kind of coffee but what I didn’t know was how much I was going to love it! Although coffee was first discovered in Ethiopia, we can thank Italy for coffee culture as we know. The fact that coffee shops in America are often modeled after Italian cafés and sometimes use Italian words for their sizes is just proof of how strong the coffee culture in Italy is.
First off here is a sweet and condensed history of coffee in Italy: Italy first began importing coffee in the early 18th century through Venice and it was love at first sip! In the early days coffee was first a harsh, unfiltered beverage until the trend of filtered coffee mixed with goats milk from Vienna made it’s way to Milan. Yes, this is the humble beginning of what American coffee addicts will one day fondly refer to as the latte. In the 19th century early brewers experimented with using technology to extract coffee from the beans using pressure. The name espresso was coined because it literally means “to press out”. In the beginning of the 20th century Luigi Bezzera of Milan developed a machine was able to produce the first “dark, rich, complex, concentrated, satiny” espresso shots “with a rich hazel-colored crema on top and an overwhelming aroma”. The core process that was used in this first machine is still used today in espresso machines all over the world! This technology sparked the endless quest of baristas everywhere to develop the ideal espresso shot with the perfect sweet, creamy, caramel colored crema on top.
So why is any of this important? Well, every year nearly 120 million 60 kg (or roughly 132 lbs) bags of coffee are produced and sold internationally. These numbers make coffee the second most important legal global commodity behind oil. Additionally, reports show that the average American spends $1,100 annually on coffee, now multiply that by all the coffee drinkers in the world? Yeah, it’s a lot of money!
This leads us to the question of what makes Italian coffee different than American coffee? First let’s talk about the actual coffee itself. Italians take their coffee very seriously, in fact the very first day of my Italian for Travelers class my professor taught us how to order different coffee drinks. Warning: you are not going to find your half-caf, skinny, mocha with milk chocolate, mint, and light whip here in Italy. In fact, they might kick you out of the store for even asking! Okay so that might be an exaggeration but around here it is all about high quality espresso, sometimes with a little milk or water. So here is a run-down on the most popular drinks:
Caffe: plain, straight up, no messing around, shot of espresso or as I like to call it, 3 little ounces of pure gold! Strong in taste, with a rich caramel crema on top.
Doppio : Simply a double shot of espresso.
Caffe Americano: Or sometimes they call it “American-style coffee.” This is where they give you a small glass with a shot of espresso and little container of hot water so that you can adjust the strength of the flavor (see picture below).
Macchiato: Espresso that is “marked” with a dollop of steamed milk on top.
Corretto: Espresso with a kick! By that I mean that it comes with a shot of grappa, cognac or sambuca. I have never tried this one… It seems like a bad idea.
Cappuccino: Espresso with foamed milk and containing equal parts espresso, steamed milk and foamed milk.
Caffe’ latte: Espresso made with more milk than a cappuccino but only a small amount of foam. In Italy it is usually a breakfast drink.
My favorite drink so far has been cappuccinos. There is a café right on campus that makes great cappuccinos and is also a great place to study! One piece of advice, if you are trying to blend in as a local, don’t order a coffee drink with milk after 11:00am because Italians only drink them in the morning. On the other hand, if you are blonde like me with no chance of blending in then by all means politely ask for one. I have found that they will always make it, but that they may laugh a little. You win some you lose some!
The actual coffee isn’t the only thing that is different, the way they drink it is too. First of all, coffee is everywhere! You can get a quality espresso (oops, I mean caffe) everywhere from pastry shops to restaurants, not to mention plain old coffee shops. It is amazing! First off when you walk into a coffee shop (often labeled al bar) you have two choices, to drink it at the bar, or to sit down at a table. There is often a big price difference between the two so if you are looking to just drink it and go, stand at the bar! The other major difference is that you can almost never get your drink to-go. Italians drink it in the shop, but often quickly.
Finally there are also free-standing coffee vending machines everywhere. I know that we have a few of these in America but there is one major difference, the ones here make REALLY good coffee! The coffee machines that I see the most often have about 15-20 different options. You can get everything from plain espresso, to hot chocolate, to macchiatos. They only give you little, tiny amounts but with most drinks at 50 euro-cents, it is the perfect between class pick me up!
On that note I think it’s time for a coffee break so until next time, ciao!