This article is written by Contributing Editor Tony Traficante.
The Etiquette of Drinking Caffè Italiano
As much as we might want to credit Italy with discovering coffee—it ain’t so! Originating in Arabia, and expanding throughout the Middle East, coffee made its way to Europe via Egypt, crossing the Adriatic Sea to Venice. It was in Venice where the first European coffee house opened in the 17th century.
But it was some time before the drink became legit, in Italy. Why? Unfortunately, Pope Clement VIII deemed it sinful, a heathen drink and an Islamic threat to Christianity…until he, of course, finally tasted it himself.
From there, the Italians did much to advance the popularity of coffee. In the beginning, coffee was a luxury beverage available mostly to the wealthy. But, as coffee plantations throughout the European colonies increased productivity, availability of coffee also ncreased, lowering the price and making coffee more accessible to the masses.
A Barista, the ‘licensed techie’ in charge of the Italian coffee bar, will prepare your coffee in any number of ways. Order a one-shot espresso; a doppio with two shots; a macchiato with one shot plus a small amount of frothed milk; a cappuccino, one shot with frothed hot milk added and topped with a shake of chocolate shavings; latte macchiato, an espresso in a glass of frothed milk; or caffè lungo, a coffee as close as you will get to the American style. But for those who need a great morning pick-me-upper, try caffè corretto, an espresso with a shot of liquor, especially grappa!
Like other food and beverage items in Italy, the drinking of coffee follows a series of customary practices. Foremost, you must pay for your coffee in advance, before approaching the Barista, who will ask for a receipt. One drinks ‘milky’ coffee in the morning (except the ‘lavoratori,’ who down a straight espresso to get going). Normally, drinking Cappuccino after lunch is considered ‘tacky’ and marks one as a non-continental resident (i.e. a tourist). The Baristi, professional as they are, will only grind the beans just before brewing your coffee and serve the drink semi-hot; to serve it too hot spoils the taste.
Coffee bars have these complex shiny, silver looking espresso-making machines with a milk frother and coffee bean grinder attached to the side. (Ya have to be and Engineer to operate it!) The original machine was invented by Angelo Moriondo of Turin in 1884 and, over the years, a number of functional improvements were made by Luigi Bezzera, Desiderio Pavoni and Achille Gaggia. Today, there are small replica-like machines available for the home.
Most Italian homes have a stovetop espresso maker. One is the ‘Moka’ pot. It is a simple pot with two halves, screwed together. The bottom half is a water chamber with a tin of ground coffee sitting above it. When the water boils, the pressure created in the bottom chamber forces the water through the coffee basket and into a top chamber via a filter, ready to be poured.
Another home device is the ‘Napoletana’ pot. It uses the ‘flip-drip’ method. When the water is boiling in the lower half, the pot is completely flipped allowing the water to filter through the coffee, via gravity. (Also works great for steaming asparagus!)
To coffee connoisseurs, a good cup of Italian coffee is manna from Heaven; their cups always ‘runneth’ over. As someone once said “Come non si contano anni e amori, così non si contano le tazze di caffè.”
Like us on Facebook to receive more stories, food, wine and travel.