I’ve been living in Tuscany, Italy, for a few years now and one of the habits that I have had picked up is the art of coffee drinking.
This may sound simple but as I have found out coffee is no laughing matter when it comes to Italian’s. The way we might say “Would you like to get a drink together?” when you meet an old friend on the street, an Italian would say “Shall we take a coffee together?” All day at work Italian’s spend their time working between espressos and no one shall take that time away from them. I worked with a chef who exactly at 10:30 every morning (just before service) would stop whatever he was doing, even if it wasn’t finished, and go across the street for his second espresso of the day.
In this way I often build up to four or five espresso’s a day. I can get a bit jumpy, but I am on the low side of the coffee drinkers of Italy. Once, while doing a tasting for school I had to drink 5 espressos in an hour. I shook and bounced for the rest of the day feeling like caffeine had been injected straight into my veins. The teacher who gave the demonstration was on his second class of the day. It was his 12th espresso when it was my 5th. He didn’t even bat an eye, though it may have twitched slightly.
Picking a style
Each Italian has his or her own special way of drinking a coffee.
Macchiato: espresso with a splash of milk
Caffè corto: short espresso
Caffè lungo: long espresso
Cappuccino: espresso with steamed milk over top
There is even caffè Americano, you guessed it…watered down espresso.
With sugar, sweetener, or just amaro; black, everything is a decision, a style, part of who you are.
Picking a signature way to drink your coffee is an essential part of jumping into Italian culture. People will remember these things about you.
My husband’s grandmother doesn’t give me a spoon after dinner when it is time for coffee. “You drink yours black,” she says, “so you don’t need a spoon”. Well, alright I think, Heavens forbid I should change my mind for a cup and decide to have a little sugar. I hadn’t been sleeping well after a trip back from the states so I refused a cup of espresso one night after dinner. She starred at me and asked if I was alright? She asked me if I was alright five times before the night was over. “But you always drink coffee.”
There are a few rules that should be followed if you want to drink your coffee without sticking out like a tourist who doesn’t know his or her coffee edict.
- Always say ciao, or buongiorno (or buona sera if it is after 2pm) when you enter a coffee shop. Always say ciao and grazie, in that order, to all of the employees when you leave.
- Stand at the bar and drink your coffee as fast as possible even if it means creating burn blisters in your throat. It is impolite to sip. Most guide books suggestion you stand at the bars as a way to avoid the table charge, but table charges are not generally high (a euro or two…usually less than a tip would be), and you can sit at a table if you feel like it. But, if you want the true Italian style stand at the bar and chug your coffee.
- If you, by some fluke, finish your coffee before anyone else you are with; pay for your coffee and theirs while they are finishing up. Even if they argue, you must insist for some reason or another that it is your time to pay. My husband loves to do this as I stand at the bar trying to choke down the bubbling hot liquid feeling more panicked every second now that he has drunk his coffee, paid, and is quietly waiting for me by the door having already said all of his “ciao grazie’s”. Everyone in the bar looks at me like I have three heads. What? It’s hot. I am building tolerance though, and one of these days I’m going to pay.
- Never, under any circumstances order a cappuccino after 11:00am, and most positively never after dinner. Cappucino has milk, and is therefore considered a breakfast food. It is strange to eat breakfast food after dinner. If you simply cannot go without the milk have a macchiato, just a splash of milk to easy the pain.
- Never pay more than eighty cents for an espresso. If it costs more switch bars, there is one every three feet so you should be able to find one, and if you can’t find one than switch towns. Coffee is best when it is cheap, strong, and in your own signature style.
- Hotel del Giannicolo, Rome
- Hotel Plebiscito Due, Naples
- Hotel Roma, Venezia Mestre
- Hotel California, Positano
- Hotel La Bussola, Amalfi
Photo mosaic of Italian coffee originally posted by Latente | A pocket full of unexposed film