La Dolce Vita - A guide to coffee in Italy
Coffee has a long history in Italy. It is the birthplace of the espresso, cappuccino, cafe americano, and many others. In this guide, we will talk about how to order a coffee in Italy, and recommend some of our favorite cafes in Italy that are mixing the modern and traditional.
How to drink coffee, Italian style.
Very few places have had more of an impact on coffee than Italy. There are a myriad number of coffee home-brewing methods that began in Italy. The most popular being the espresso, the Moka Pot, the caffè latte, cappuccino, and the macchiato, which we define below. First, we start with the classic of classics, the espresso.
The espresso machine was first patented in Italy in 1901 by Luigi Bezzera. This new invention allowed for the rapid production of coffee, making it easier for busy Italians to grab a quick cup of coffee on their way to work. The modern espresso machine that we use today was further developed by Achille Gaggia in 1945, which introduced a lever to create a crema layer on top of the espresso. This crema layer has since become a hallmark of high-quality espresso, with coffee lovers around the world seeking out the perfect espresso shot.
The Moka pot, also known as a stovetop espresso maker, was invented in Italy in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti. This popular brewing method works by using steam pressure to brew coffee, which produces a strong and flavorful cup of coffee. The Moka pot is a staple in Italian households and is often used to make coffee for the whole family.
The Caffè Latte is a popular coffee drink that was invented in Italy in the 17th century. It is made by combining espresso and steamed milk, and often topped with a small layer of foam. This drink is mostly enjoyed for breakfast or as a mid-morning pick-me-up.
The Cappuccino is another popular coffee drink invented in Italy. This drink is traditionally served in a small cup and consumed in the morning. It is also common to enjoy a cappuccino after a meal, but never with a meal, as Italians believe that milk and coffee don't mix well with food.
The Espresso Macchiato (in Italian "Caffè Macchiato") is a small coffee drink that is made by adding a small amount of steamed milk to a shot of espresso. It is served in a small espresso cup and is popular among those who prefer a stronger coffee flavor.
The Americano originated in Italy during World War II when American soldiers diluted espresso with hot water to make the espresso in Italy more similar to the coffee they were used to in America. Today, an Americano is made by adding hot water to a shot of espresso to create a coffee with a lighter body and less acidity than espresso.
A Corretto is a shot of espresso "corrected" with a small amount of alcohol, typically grappa or brandy. This drink is often enjoyed after a meal as a digestif.
A Shakerato is an iced coffee drink made by shaking espresso, sugar, and ice in a cocktail shaker. This drink is a refreshing summer drink and is often enjoyed during the hot months.
An Affogato is a dessert coffee made by pouring a shot of espresso over a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream. The hot espresso melts the ice cream, creating a rich and delicious dessert.
In Italy, one goes to a bar to get a coffee. Now, this bar is not a bar in the sense most people outside of Italy would think. It's actually a café (caffé) that sells snacks, pastries, and yes, alcohol, but mainly sells coffee. Coffee made to drink fast. Coffee for the person on the go. The bar itself often does not have seats, it’s not for sitting but for standing and having your caffé al banco (at the counter).
Caffé al banco is the traditional way to drink your coffee in Italy. It is an espresso, generally a single, served in a small demitasse, with a small amount of water on the side, and taken like a shot. This espresso can also be served as a ristretto (restricted) or lungo (long) shot, but is more often than not just a simple espresso shot. The whole transaction from beginning to end shouldn’t take more than five minutes. It is the cheaper version of coffee drinking (a caffè most likely will cost around 1€, a cappuccino 1,5€-2€). It's used to have a little caffeine boost throughout the day with each bar stop.
Conversely, there is a caffé al tavolo (cafe at the table) which is less popular, but still pretty common. This is a cafe in the way most of the world outside of Italy can imagine, sort of. It is a coffee that one enjoys at a more leisurely pace, and is usually consumed with food of some sort, or a milk-coffee drink i.e. cappuccino, latte macchiatto or even a caffe americano. Here, the patron will receive full table service, and should expect that the cost of the coffee is more expensive. Not every bar has al tavolo service.
It is traditional for Italians to have just one cappuccino in the morning, then only have espresso for the rest of the day. This does not have anything to do with caffeine, but with the milk. Like most Southern Europeans, many Italians are lactose intolerant. Some lactose intolerant people can consume small amounts of milk, without much trouble, which is why they only consume one. A second or even third cappuccino could cause moderate to severe gastrointestinal distress, hence the rule of thumb of one. While the rule is commonly quoted as “No cappuccino after 11am”, the time is not technically a deadline. It is just a shorthand way of saying, a cappuccino should only be for breakfast, or the first drink of the day. It’s a small cultural taboo that comes from the dietary restrictions of the majority of the population. An interesting example of how one’s diet can affect their culture.
Tradition meets modernity
Italy is a place where tradition and modernity are constantly in contact. From the old Roman ruins combining with the more modern architecture, Italy has a history of combining the old and the new. We’ve chosen some of our favourite specialty coffee providers nestled in Il vecchio paese.
Orsonero Coffee - Milan
Opened by Brent Jopson, originally of Vancouver, Orsonero Coffee is a specialty coffee cafe in Milan. With a balance of modern and traditional, Orsonero Coffee has a light, minimalist, wooden interior design. It respects the Italian tradition of caffé al banco while also serving other more modern brew methods. Orsonero encourages you to sit inside or outside and enjoy your coffee at a more leisurely pace. They have several coffee roasters in their hoppers, and if lucky you might enjoy a 19grams roast here as well. Orsonero Coffee is located 15-minutes walk to the south-east of Milano Centrale, Milan's main train station.
Faro - Rome
Faro is a specialty coffee cafe and gourmet bistro near Rome’s center. They have been serving locals the full range of their own roasted beans to locals and tourists alike, since 2016. Beyond specialty coffee, Faro also has a wide selection of gourmet homemade pastries, desserts and an international brunch and food menu. Owner Dario Fociani spent time working in cafes in the specialty coffee scene in Melbourne, London and in Berlin. Returning to his home city with international specialty coffee knowledge under his belt, Dario opened Faro cafe in Rome, styled on his world travels and experiences. Faro is located a short 15-minute walk from Rome's central train station.
Campana Caffè - Naples
Campana Caffè in Pompei is a specialty cafe and roastery with a long history of coffee roasting. The third-generation Campana family founded the brand in 2013, featuring a line of specialty coffee. Head roaster Raffaele Campana and cafe manager Paola Campana serve freshly baked Italian and Neapolitan pastries. The family-owned cafe is conveniently located just a 2-minute walk from the Pompei train station, perfect for a pre-ruins breakfast or coffee break.
Ditta Artigianale (Oltrarno)- Florence
Located south of the Arno River in the Oltrarno quarter of Florence, Ditta Artigianale (Oltrarno) is the most recent of Ditta's cafes having opened in 2016. Like the original Ditta Artigianale on Via Neri, this one has a full selection of Ditta’s own roasted specialty coffee beans. You will also find a selection of gins, cocktails, and some seasonal gourmet tastings like tapas using traditional Florentine ingredients. The space is divided into two levels with a ground floor dining area, cafe, and cocktail bar and a top floor with sofas, armchairs and low tables in a 1950's style.