03 December 2009
Posted in CULTURE AND TRADITIONS
Do you love coffee? The Italians certainly do. One of the images that most often springs to mind when one thinks of Italy is that of an elegant man or woman standing at a bar sipping a tiny espresso and watching the world go by.
In Italy, coffee is a source of intense national pride and the Italians take it very seriously, boycotting places which do not serve good coffee, and generally snubbing after dinner coffee in restaurants to visit a favourite bar.
So how did a beverage that did not actually originate in Italy become a symbol of the Italian lifestyle?
Coffee was imported from the Middle East, where it was used mainly for medicinal purposes, and the strong trade links of Venice with the East ensured that the very first European coffee houses opened there in the 17th century. Appreciation for this invigorating drink quickly grew, and coffee houses began to spring up all over Italy, and today you cannot turn a street corner in Italy without coming across some kind of establishment serving coffee.
The preparation of the coffee is very important, and great pride is taken in the selection of the beans, mainly Arabica in Northern Italy with a good jolt of stronger Robusta in the South. The roasting process is also very delicate, and it is important to obtain the right balance between heat and time. The grinding of the beans should be done in the bar immediately before brewing to ensure the freshest flavour. In bars, the big, elegant coffee machines take some mastering to produce the finest brew, and it is a source of pride for the barista to make the best coffee he can.
Although the Italians feel that real espresso is the kind you can only find in a bar, most Italians do make coffee at home too. The most common way of doing this is with a Moka, a stainless steel contraption used to make coffee that is not an Italian coffee like one you would get in a bar but is stronger than regular percolated coffee. An Italian house is not a home without a Moka, or for the true coffee connoisseurs, a smaller home version of the coffee machines found in bars on the street.
At a bar
Bear in mind that there are many different kinds of coffee to be had in Italy, and to get the type you like the most you have to know what to ask for:
- Caffé espresso - For the Italians, this is an espresso. Short, simple and strong, most people in Italy mean this when they talk about having a coffee in a bar. This kind of coffee is made to be drunk quickly, in just a few sips.
- Caffé Doppio - A double espresso, if you really need perking up!
- Ristretto - Not for the faint hearted, the ristretto is an even shorter, stronger version of the espresso made with very little water.
- Americano - What we think of as a normal black coffee, this is espresso made with plenty of extra water.
- Macchiato - An espresso that has been “stained” with a splash of steamed milk
- Marocchino - A macchiato with the addition of a layer of cacao between the coffee and the milk.
- Cappuccino - The all time favourite frothy coffee! Do not be surprised if your cappuccino is served colder in Italy than you are used to – this is normal. Ask for it to be made with hot milk if you want it warmer.
- CafféLatte - Milky coffee, made like a cappuccino but with less foam
- Latte Macchiato - Warm or cold milk “stained” with a single shot of espresso.
- Caffé Corretto - Coffee “corrected” with the addition of a jolt of grappa or another liqueur... The choice is yours!
Coffee is such an important part of Italian daily life that it should come as no surprise that there are a number of unwritten rules around it. First among these is that coffee drinks with milk in them are breakfast drinks, and not for after lunch or dinner – so be prepared for some strange looks if you decide to enjoy a cappuccino after a five course Italian feast!
Coffee costs more to drink sitting down at a table than it does standing up, whether the barista brings you your drink or not. Most Italians prefer to stand at the bar and sip their espresso before dashing off to work, and many even eat their breakfast at the same time. Espresso is rarely drunk sitting down, unless in the company of others with more elaborate orders.
In most bars in Italy, coffee is paid for at the till before ordering it at the bar. This might seem an odd way of doing things to us, but you may find the barista asking you for your receipt before preparing your beverage here!
Of course, these are not unbreakable rules, and nobody is going to be offended if you have a cappuccino after 11am or sit down to read the paper with your espresso. It is, however, a reflection of how engrained coffee has become in the Italian way of life.
Coffee and your wedding
Being in Italy, if you are a coffee addict there are plenty of ways to add a caffeine buzz to your wedding, honeymoon or break other than enjoying your morning coffee:
As wedding favours, why not give your guests small single cup mokas, personalised espresso cups or sachets of fine Italian coffee? In addition, coffee and caffé latte are beautiful, neutral colours that are very much in fashion right now for an elegant or relaxed theme. Vases or bowls filled with coffee beans add a fragrant and original touch.
As for the food, who can resist the delicious, creamy charm of that oh-so-Italian desert tiramisu. Whether individual portions served as a desert, or a large, sumptuous replacement for a wedding cake this is bound to be appreciated by guests and be an unforgettable culinary reminder of your Italian wedding dinner.
On your honeymoon or a romantic break, you might want to go on a tour of one of the coffee houses and see how Italian coffee is made, from the growing of the beans right through to the final brew. You can taste coffee in many different forms from the traditional ones mentioned above to uses in confectionary and ice-creams.
Just remember the caffeine content - you may want to make this a morning tour!
Whatever you decide, the smell of fresh Italian coffee is bound to remind you forever more of the special time you shared in this beautiful country with your loved one.