Thomas's love of Italy began when he was 13. He now lives in Milan and enjoys fantastic coffee wherever he goes!
A National Obsession
There's something about Italian coffee culture that's difficult not to appreciate. It can be a rushed or drawn-out affair. A barista can serve you a countertop espresso in one minute, and you can drink it just as fast. You can also spend half an hour savouring a particularly delicious caffè latte. However quickly it is served or consumed, you're never far away from a decent brew in this country.
Coffee is a fundamental part of Italian culture. The average Italian consumes 5.9 kilograms of coffee per year. The average Briton, in comparison, consumes a mere 1.7 kilograms. Accompanying the popularity of coffee in Italy, many customs have grown around its daily enjoyment.
Here are four things you can do to drink coffee the Italian way.
1. Dark-Roasted With Sugar
Go into almost any caffetteria in Italy and order a caffè, and you will receive a short, sharp shot of powerful espresso. Take a sip and you will notice its considerable bitterness and lack of profound acidity. This is Italy's favoured roasting profile: dark and strong.
Standing at the bar counter, you will probably see a large bowl full of sugar sachets for customers to use at their preference. This is a common sight in most Italian coffee bars: the majority of Italians drink their espressos with sugar.
The next time you find yourself standing at the coffee shop bar and wondering what to order, ask for an espresso and sweeten it up!
2. The Moka Pot
The iconic design of this stove-top brewer has become closely associated with Italian home brewing and the Italian kitchen aesthetic. Its ease of use and ability to create the short, strong coffee many Italians favour ensures its continued popularity throughout the country.
The brewer comes in a variety of shapes and sizes, making it a great potential choice for individuals and families. Do you like your coffee nice and strong? Then give this brewer a try.
James Hoffman (YouTube coffee influencer and co-founder of London's Square Mile Coffee) has made an excellent video on how to get the best out of your Moka Pot.
3. Caffè al Tavolo
'To take away?' This is a question the barista will probably ask if you order a cappuccino at most major coffee chains. Maybe you’re in a rush to get somewhere and you want your coffee now.
Coffee to take away is not so common in Italy. Walking in the streets of Milan, you will rarely see anyone hurrying along holding a paper coffee cup. People appreciate being able to relax with their drink.
Long coffee drinks such as a cappuccino or a caffè latte are worth enjoying slowly and thoughtfully. Espressos are another matter. Viewed merely as fuel to get through the working day, they are usually bolted down at the bar counter and hardly ever taken off-premises.
If you really want to drink coffee like an Italian, and you're out and about in the big city, take a minute and sit down with your drink. Everyone deserves a moment of calm within their frantic schedule. Why not make it your coffee break? (Or you could just down your espresso in one caffeine-packed hit!)
4. Keep It Traditional
The big American chains have long been pushing the boundaries of what constitutes a coffee-based drink. From caramel frappuccinos to strawberry and vanilla oat lattes, the world of high-street coffee has certainly expanded extravagantly in recent years.
Lately, Starbucks has been making significant inroads into the Italian market. In 2018, the chain opened its first Italian store in Milan: the Starbucks Reserve Roastery. With its much-hyped introduction to the city, many lamented the decline of traditional Italian coffee culture. Fast forward to late 2021, and Italy had allowed 10 more stores to set up shop.
The characteristic approach of American coffee culture to Italy's favourite beverage and its sugary inventions certainly has its fans, especially among the younger generation, but traditionalists remain unconvinced.
The classic options—espresso, ristretto, cappuccino, and caffè latte—remain the go-to drinks for the out-and-about Italian. If you want to drink your coffee like a true patriot, hands off the frappé!
An Enduring Tradition
Italian coffee culture is changing. Once one of the last bastions of Starbucks-free coffee in Europe, the American giant has finally gained a foothold in the country and won’t be going anywhere soon.
Some lamented this as the downfall of a cultural phenomenon that has come to define Italy for many people around the world. Others are more accepting of the change, saying that the American coffee creations have injected a much-needed (caffeine) shot up the arm for the industry.
From what I have seen, it is still possible to ‘drink coffee the Italian way’. Despite the introduction of big franchises into the country, it will take more than a few wayward frappuccinos to make a dent in this deeply embedded everyday routine.
© 2022 Thomas Roeder