A detailed insight into the Italian coffee culture
For Italians, caffè is more than just a drink. It is a piece of lifestyle, a ritual that is celebrated in the numerous caffè bars. Every break offers a welcome occasion for an espresso or cappuccino. More about Italian coffee culture in our magazine.
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Italian Coffee Culture: The History of Italian Coffee
The beginning of the Italian coffee tradition dates back to the 17th century. At that time, the first merchant ships arrived in the port of Venice, shipping coffee beans from the Orient, Africa and Brazil to Europe. From then on, the coffee tradition would take deep roots in Italy. The enormous popularity of hot drinks spurred the inventive spirit of the Italians in the years that followed. That is why numerous innovations in terms of coffee making and production originate in Italy. This is how the first coffee house came into being and the espresso machine began its worldwide campaign of conquest in Italy.
The port city of Trieste has always been regarded as the Mecca of Italian coffee. The city still has an extremely important coffee port to this day. In the northern Italian metropolis, the beans that have arrived are subjected to initial checks before they are released for roasting. During a walk in the center of Trieste, visitors will come across a number of coffee houses that bear witness to a centuries-old tradition.
The preparation – the darker the better
The Italians use sophisticated coffee blends, some of which are very different from those of other countries. As a rule, these contain a high proportion of the finest Arabica beans and Robusta beans, which give Italian coffee its incomparable taste. Unmistakable aromas and flavors can be created by combining selected types of coffee. This is probably one of the secrets that makes Caffè italiano one of the best and most full-bodied in the world.
But it is not just the beans as such that give the popular coffee a top position among coffee drinkers. The so-called “Italian roasting” is just as important. The Italian roast corresponds to the darkest of the five “classic” roast levels.
This ensures an intense taste, but removes more caffeine and acid from the beans than is the case, for example, with classic filter coffee. And that although the Italian caffè contains more bitter substances. The result of the strong roast is also a coffee that has a bitter taste compared to other degrees of roasting and a slightly sweet acidity. Furthermore, the coffee is not filtered in Italy. Instead, the water is heated to a high temperature and pressed through the finely ground coffee powder under high pressure.
How vigorously the beans are roasted depends on the region. What they all have in common, however, is the use of Arabica beans from Central and South America, which can be preserved for longer thanks to the dark roast.
Due to the high proportion of bitter substances, the great art of the master roaster is required, especially for very dark roasts. For this reason, small, artisanal roasters (torrefazione artigianale) are still widespread in the southern European country.
When is which coffee drink suitable?
Italians like to drink a cappuccino for breakfast. A dessert such as a “cornetto” (croissant), a “brioche” (pastry) or biscuits may be eaten with this. The locals like to take a little more time for this than usual. In Italy, cappuccino traditionally consists of two parts: milk foam and espresso. When poured, the Italian milk foam is free of air bubbles and the consistency is comparable to whipped cream. In contrast to the local cappuccino, no additional milk is poured into the drink. Plus, an Italian would never drink cappuccino with whipped cream. In Italy, cappuccino is consumed almost exclusively in the mornings.
When it strikes 12 noon, the cappuccino gives way to the espresso. Because from lunch onwards, the undisputed number one in Italy is espresso. This is usually drunk several times from midday, often every hour. An espresso is also often ordered after dinner to round off the enjoyment perfectly.
Variants of the coffee drink – you should know that when ordering
The variations of coffee drinks in Italy are very diverse. If you just order a “caffè”, you will receive an espresso in Italy. However, if you want to place another order, you should know the following variants:
- Caffè Ristretto or Caffè Corto: even smaller, but twice as concentrated as an ordinary espresso
💡 Read Our Detailed Article about the Topic: Ristretto Recipe
- Caffè Lungo or Caffè Americano : Espresso with a little more water (most comparable to German coffee)
💡 Read Our Detailed Article about the Topic: Prepare Lungo – Step By Step Instructions – Lungo Recipe
- Caffè Corretto: Espresso with a dash of grappa
💡 Read Our Detailed Article about the Topic: Caffè Corretto – preparation
- Caffè Macchiato: Espresso with a little hot milk on top
💡 Read Our Detailed Article about the Topic: Espresso Macchiato – the “little black one” with extra milk foam
- Caffè Decaffeinato : decaffeinated coffee
💡 Read Our Detailed Article about the Topic: Decaffeinated Coffee – A Good Alternative?
- Caffè Doppio : is just a double caffè
💡 Read Our Detailed Article about the Topic: Caffè Doppio: Double the Espresso
- Latte Macchiato: Large glass of milk with a smaller portion of espresso coffee
💡 Read Our Detailed Article about the Topic: Latte Macchiato Recipe – How To Make A Latte Macchiato At Home
- Caffè Latte : classic milk coffee consisting of milk and espresso in equal parts
💡 Read Our Detailed Article about the Topic: Prepare Caffè Latte – Caffè Latte Recipe
- Caffè Freddo: cold espresso
- Crema : foam
How is coffee consumed in Italy?
There are also significant differences in the consumption of coffee compared to other countries. In contrast to the Austrians, the Italians don’t sit in a café for hours. Italians prefer to drink their espresso quickly, very often even while standing.
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People from Milan, Rome or Turin prefer to enjoy their caffè three times a day on the fly instead of sitting down comfortably with a piece of cake. This is the reason why many modern cafes in the land of the “Dolce Vita” are designed in such a way that they only invite you to linger a while and not to sit comfortably for a long time. In addition, the respective community often sets a fixed price for the espresso – as long as the drink is taken “al banco” and thus while standing. If you have your espresso brought to your table, you usually have to pay a small fee for the service. In northern Italy, espresso is lighter and less sweet, whereas in southern Italy it is drunk sweeter and darker.
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Conclusion: Italian coffee culture
Italy is undoubtedly one of the best addresses for coffee connoisseurs. Traditional baristas celebrate the preparation of coffee, which is particularly evident in the taste.
Espresso in particular, which is ordered from lunchtime and is usually consumed quickly standing up in the bar, has a special position. The Italians also love their caffè especially strong and not very acidic. For this reason, the Arabica beans in particular are subjected to a special roasting process.
There are countless variations of espresso, such as a more concentrated form, with a milk cap or even with grappa. In contrast, Italians only consume cappuccino in the mornings. If you don’t want to miss out on German coffee among southern Europeans, it’s best to order a Caffè americano.