Why Is Italy Actually the Land of Coffee?

Why Is Italy Actually the Land of Coffee?

Coffee and Italy have always belonged together

Long before the first coffee houses opened in Vienna after the Turkish withdrawal, the Café Florian in Venice attracted writers and aristocrats and was the starting point for the successful triumph of coffee. The delicious hot drink was initially widespread in the aristocratic circles, but later it conquered all strata of the population and was soon an indispensable part of everyday life for Italians. But how did coffee come to Italy and why was it so successful? Our little foray into the history and traditions of Italy explains why Italy can be called the land of coffee.

The arrival of coffee

After the Venetian doctor Prospero Alpini got to know the coffee plant on a short trip to North Africa and presented it in his “De plantis aegypty”, in 1570 his students probably brought the first coffee beans to Europe. The aromatic hot drink quickly became popular among the European nobles and in 1624 the first large shipments landed in Venice. The coffee first came to Europe from the Yemeni port of Al Maqwa on the Red Sea. The drink soon became a valuable gift among aristocrats, a symbol of love or friendship.

Coffee in Venice

In rich Venice, you could enjoy the drink in public places and from 1720 in the oldest coffee house in Europe. To this day, the noble drink is offered in the Caffè Florian in Piazza San Marco. But even when it was founded, it enjoyed great popularity and attracted famous people, artists and writers. The coffee house culture, therefore, quickly spread across the entire Italian peninsula. Coffee houses were also founded in other cities, creating meeting places of great fame. They were the Caffè Greco in Rome, the Caffè Pedrocchi in Padua and the Caffè San Carlo in Turin.

Coffee is becoming the favorite of Italians

If the expensive coffee powder was initially reserved for the upper class, it gradually began to triumph over all classes. After the “Caffettiera napoletana” was invented in 1961 and coffee could be made at home, coffee in Italy was freed from the reputation of being an aristocratic drink. Drinking coffee subsequently not only spread to all social classes, but also became a daily habit for many Italians. This tradition continues to this day.

Naples – the city and its coffee

Even if the first coffee landed in Venice on Italian soil, Naples is the city of Italy that to this day probably identifies most with coffee. The delicious drink seems to fit perfectly with the lifestyle of the southern Italians and has left its mark on everyday life. In Naples, there are not only numerous songs about the hot drink, but also a particularly beautiful tradition:
Since people in the city on Vesuvius believe that coffee should be open to everyone, wealthy citizens pay for their espresso as well as a “caffè sospeso”, in other words, a “stored” coffee waiting for someone who cannot afford one. This custom can be traced back to the deeply rooted culture that the Neapolitans have long associated with coffee.

It was true that it was the aristocrats who brought coffee to Naples and, soon after the wife of the Austrian King Ferdinand, Maria Karolina, first had the hot drink in the theater, built the city’s first coffee house. But it didn’t take long for coffee to become established in the working class and an indispensable part of everyday life. It was also the working class who made the first coffee at home and thus invented mocha. To do this, they used a device invented in Naples in 1961, with which one could make three to four cups of coffee from four to five grams of finely ground coffee and pure water. The famous “Caffettiera napoletana” soon belonged in every household. It was a starting point for the ritual with which a cup of aromatic coffee ended an Italian meal.

Coffee houses in Naples

In the traditional city in southern Italy, you can still find many relics from the time of the elegant coffee houses with their high ceilings and elegant furnishings or you can enjoy your coffee in one of the countless bars.
The city is also the cradle of the first university completely dedicated to coffee and its culture. In 1999, the famous illy coffee company, which actually comes from Trieste, opened the first “Universitá del caffè”. The training center for coffee producers, which today has 20 locations, not only researches. It teaches how to get the best out of coffee growing, but also teaches everything about roasting and preparing the drink. A real art in itself!

Coffee culture in Italian

Enjoying Italian coffee is an art, even a science. Since the Italian espresso is made from very dark roasted beans, the master roaster requires great art. It is not for nothing that there are still many smaller, artisanal roasters in the country (torrefazione artigianale). They have many years of experience and slowly roast the coffee beans to the desired result. It can also be done industrially – but here larger quantities are roasted faster and so fewer unwanted acids are removed than with traditional long-term roasting. A problem with espresso, which is much more concentrated than filter coffee.

Even if the Italian espresso tastes much more bitter and is therefore usually drunk with a lot of sugar, it contains less caffeine than filter coffee. The reason for this is also the roast, which corresponds to the darkest of the five “classic” roast levels. The slow but stronger roasting creates more bitter substances, while the caffeine and acid content is reduced. This is why the espresso can develop such a characteristic aroma.

Conclusion: land of coffee

The Italians have always combined their espresso with other ingredients and thus invented the cappuccino, the latte macchiato and many other types of coffee.

How Italians drink their coffee does not only differ from region to region, it also depends on personal preferences. In the bar, you can order: “caffè lungo”, “caffè corretto”, “caffè nel vetro”, “caffè macchiato” and much more. However, if you want a cappuccino in the afternoon, you can expect skeptical looks. After all, Italians only drink cappuccino for breakfast. The meals, on the other hand, end with an espresso, which can be “stained” – that is, “macchiato” – at the highest level.