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Italian Coffee Culture article

If you’ve been on a Rick Steves Italy tour, you probably were told that “Cappuccino is a morning drink only” to Italians, though Americans may be surprised because they drink it whenever they wish.

This article reveals much about the passion and sensibility of drinking coffee “Italian style.”

Coffee is such a big deal in Italy, we always enjoy sipping something from a coffee bar just down the street from the hotel. After reading this article I will enjoy it even more. I will try to look for the local favorites mentioned in the article.

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16135 posts

“Cappuccino is a morning drink only”

We've cheerfully broken that rule nearly every afternoon in Italy and never had a barista faint dead away. I like cappuccinos, and can't drink straight espresso 'cause it tears my stomach to shreds. So there. We've never consumed it after dinner, tho.

It's also very possible that coffee 'rules' will be altered as younger generations lean into new products and different methods of consumption?

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15723 posts

Kathy.....have you ever tried a Caffe Machiatto. (Not the Starbucks Machiatto but a real one?) It's a shot of espresso with some milk. Not as much milk as a cappucino but enough to help cut the strength of the espresso.

Posted by
18860 posts

periscope, thank you. A few months ago I was educated in why my eggs are in the cupboard. Now, thanks to you, I understand why my milk is next to my eggs.

Posted by
7468 posts

Thanks for sharing the article! It brings back so many fond memories of that important start of a day with an excellent coffee in Italy.

I agree; just step back & observe for a few minutes to see how each bar processes the steps of ordering & payment. That applies to gelato shops, too!

For some reason that little glass of water & small espresso cup just makes me smile every time! It is such a great mid-morning break to stand at the counter and feel like I belong there! 1-2 € for that fantastic pick-me-up and community experience.

The first transaction I had my adult daughter try on her own was ordering her coffee in Italian at the train station bar and to stand at the counter to enjoy it. We talked through it ahead of time, so she knew what to expect. Afterwards, she walked back out of the bar smiling so big when she caught my eye!

I’ve had many fantastic espresso & cappuccino at hotels, but just watch out for the automatic machines which can be disappointing.

One hint/comment: even though the article says to order un caffe if you want an espresso, I noticed a few times during my last trip to Italy that a barista would pause and clarify if what I really wanted was an Americano instead of an espresso. It never happened during all of my other trips. The baristas probably have had some Americans complain now when they were handed the espresso, expecting a cup of coffee, instead. So, I just switched to asking for un espresso and no more pauses. : )

Time to pull out my Moka pot! …….; )

Posted by
5144 posts

I think the author was quite clear that while Italians don't drink cappuccinI after noon, no barista would bat an eye at a tourist ordering one at any time of day. I love a cappuccino to jump start my day. More often than not will have a couple. But I've come to prefer a Caffè macchiato in the afternoon and evening- mostly because of the smaller volume.

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16135 posts

Kathy... have you ever tried a Caffe Machiatto?

Thanks for the suggestion, Frank II. I have tried it and it didn't quite cut it for my tender tum.
Dang that tender tum anyway. :O(

But still, not a single barista gave me the evil crusty for breaking the cappuccino rule, and they even gave me a little cookie with my coffee. What's not to like?

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206 posts

Periscope- aww, I hope next time you get only the delicious coffees. And yeah, milk is sure different over there. We don’t care for it so much.

We bought quark by accident while on the hunt for yogurt in Germany. My Dutch friend laughed when I told her about it home. Quark is quark! No American equivalent, I don’t think?!

Kathy-some rules were made to be broken, yes?😉and I agree-if I liked cappuccino I would order it whenever I wanted and wouldn’t worry about being judged. I think the tour guide was just trying to tell us how the Italians did things, not to impose the rules on us. I love the cookie that comes with some coffees-so fun!

Frank II and CJean—I’d love to try a real macchiato next time—and a caffe con panna, that sounds delicious.

I ordered cafe avec crème in France once, thought it would be a regular coffee with milk or light cream-and received the prettiest and most delicious coffee topped with a flower of whipped cream. And a cookie.
Heaven!

Jean-what a nice story about your daughter! I find the coffee bars so delightful. I remember the men wearing scarves, ordering their espressos and drinking al banco on their way to work. Makes me smile to think of it.
And I might have to get a Moka pot-I didn’t know about that until reading the article.

Usually, I take decaf, so a tiny espresso would wire me up to the ceiling. I may have to ease into it stateside.😁

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6383 posts

Jean, there was a bar we went to in Sorrento some years ago that always assumed I wanted an americano when I ordered a caffé. I learned to specify espresso, or a "real coffee" lol.

And our first trip to Florence we ordered a cappuccino after lunch, and the waiter was distressed. He almost begged us to order a macchiato. We insisted on the cappuccino, but have since learned to appreciate macchiati.

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883 posts

Time to pull out my Moka pot! …….; )

There was a Moka pot in two of the three apartments we had in Italy over 15 days in November. It took a couple of tries to get it right, and we had bought quality ground coffee, so I believe what we were producing after a while was representative, using low heat on the burner. It tastes like well brewed percolated coffee. It was OK for the first cup of the morning, but I couldn't wait to get to Emporio Sant' Eustachio for their excellent cappuccino.

I enjoyed many a macchiato during the trip, but it was easy to resist the temptation to purchase one of those Moka pot gift sets that you see everywhere. I very much enjoyed the first pour- over from my Chemex upon returning home.

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9902 posts

Fun blog post to read ! I love how the author made the people watching a key component of his/her coffee enjoyment.

One coffee I didn't see mentioned in their list was a marrochino. I don't know if it is a specialty only in Piedmont, but my husband has me order it as he knows I love the sweet stuff. I guess it's basically an allongato with a little dollop of Nutella ??!! Am I remembering this correctly ? I am going to have to call him, but he is en plein service at work right now so it will have to wait.

And as for specialty coffees that are truly creations of a place, of course you can't do any better in the winter than a classic Turin Bicerin: coffee, chocolate, and cream, somehow all remaining in their separate layers.

And the best place in the world for one, of course, is Caffè Bicerin, a tiny jewel shop of a coffee house, founded in 1763!

https://bicerin.it/en/the-bicerin/

Edit to add: indeed, according to Wikipedia, marrochino is native to Piedmont, having been "invented" in Asti (who knows if that is really true, but I am going with it). It says that usually it's just cocoa that is added - but that Nutella is sometimes added. And Marco definitely always has the barista add Nutella for me ! (Except they are usually using a local instead of industrial brand).

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marocchino

Also, speaking of Moka pots : one of my favorite things on the internet is when Rome resident (and foodie) Elizabeth Minchilli simply shows video footage of making her coffee in her moka pot. There I something so calming about it to me, visually so simple but somehow really beautiful to me.

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7030 posts

A few months ago I was educated in why my eggs are in the cupboard.

Mr. E, I’m not sure what the reason was for eggs being in your cupboard. Hopefully it was for the reason why eggs sit out of my counter at home. When eggs come fresh from a chicken, they have a coating on them for protection. This means that the eggs do not have to be refrigerated as long as that coating is there.

Eggs that are purchased in stores are usually washed, and the coating is removed; hence the refrigeration. 😊

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18860 posts

I know. We had about a 60 entry post on it a few months ago. The milk issue is new to me. Happy for both cause the fridge is small LOL

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206 posts

Markcw-I got a Chemex style coffee maker from Bodum, so I know what you mean. If I get beans and grind them then I use the faux Chemex. But tbh we are usually not too fussy about coffee and buy a tub of ground decaf coffee 😱 We usually use a French press.

Funny thing about coffee and the passion for it and how to prepare it. Almost its own religion.

Kim- thanks for the links. I may want to try those you referenced.

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9902 posts

Eggs that are purchased in stores are usually washed,

There's a key phrase missing here.

It should read:

Eggs that are purchased in stores in the United States are usually washed,

Because in Europe, they usually aren’t.

Posted by
938 posts

I'm not so sure about the UHT milk thing either... I've certainly never had UHT milk at home and I wouldn't expect it anywhere that's serving decent coffee. The only place I'd expect to encounter it is in little individual pots you might get in McDonalds or similar. It's the first I've heard that it's a "European propensity".

Posted by
3250 posts

I love coffee in Italy and look forward to it every morning I am there.
However, over the years, I’ve realised that those delicious cappuccinos are really quite small and mainly foam.
Now I order an Americano with a small jug of very hot milk on the side.
Same delicious taste, more actual coffee in my cup.
In many trips to Italy I have never knowingly been served UHT milk in any coffee.
I remember it from my student days in Scotland……..🤢

My travel friend and I have a game on trips to Italy to find the bar that serves the best tasting and hottest coffee for the same price at a table as standing at the bar.
Usually found in a teeny out of the way Mom and Pop bar on the last day of a trip!☺️

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16938 posts

I do not drink coffee, but my husband loves his morning espresso or cappuccino. When we are staying in Italian cities, he loves to visit the neighborhood bar and get it there, standing at the bar.

At home, he has perfected the technique for making excellent espresso, using a Breville Bambino Plus espresso machine, a high-end coffee grinder, and the freshest possible beans from a local Seattle (Fremont) coffee roaster. He buys the beans one pound at a time, and stores them air-tight and cool, so they are always fresh.

It took him months of trial and error, and three different tries at the right grinder (each one more expensive than the last), before he succeeded. But now he can produce a nice satisfying cup of espresso, with perfect crema and, everyone seems to agree, excellent flavor.

Our daughter, whom we have taken to Italy twice (most recently this past September), is here and just had a cup. Her first comment: “Ahh, tastes like Italy”. Highest possible praise.

If you look at the equipment that finally allowed such success, you will see he has invested around $1000 (actually more, if you count the two coffee grinders that did not produce the desired result). So that is the equivalent of 4-5 hotel nights in Italy (or 3 in Switzerland) —- worth it to him for the result. And worth it to me to see him have so much pleasure, since we can only spend a few weeks in Italy each year.

https://www.breville.com/us/en/products/espresso.html

https://www.baratza.com/product/settetm-270-zcg1270

Next we will turn our attention to sushi—-a family activity we, our kids, and our grandchildren all enjoy when we are together. We have access to the freshest fish and other ingredients here in Seattle, so I gave him a good rice cooker for Christmas. I expect the return on the investment to be even better than the espresso maker. 😊

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3073 posts

September 2022, we were at the Salone del Gusto (slow food festival) in Turino. As part of the festival, we did a tour of Lavazza HQ. We all sat around a coffee bar in the Lavazza HQ, and got the info about real coffee.

At the end there was a Q&A. So I asked "Have you ever heard of cowboy coffee?" "No, so what is that?" Me: "It's a little like Greek coffee, except they put an egg in it." Stunned silence. "An egg?" Me: "A whole egg."

My friends went back the next day, and the Lavazza guy was talking about this "crazy guy from Texas who puts eggs in his coffee."

My friends will return to Salone del Gusto. I am going to make a photo of myself in a cowboy rig with a cup of coffee and several eggs.

I have also found a cookbook from the 1940s with the recipe for coffee including an egg. So I did not make this up out of some wacky fantasy.

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16938 posts

Whoever wrote that recipe with a whole egg was pulling your leg. Cowboy Coffee is simply coffee made on the trail (or road) by throwing coffee grounds into a pot of water and boiling them, then letting the grounds settle to the bottom so clear coffee can be poured off the top. Adding cold water or crushed eggshells helps with settling the grounds.

https://theroasterie.com/blogs/news/cowboy-coffee-an-american-tradition

This real cowboy has a number of YouTube videos about Cowboy Coffee; this is the shortest and he doesn’t even mention the eggshells.

https://youtu.be/y75TKsJ82FU?si=yUzogVla7_U_-WLh

Here is his blog on the same subject:

https://kentrollins.com/cowboy-coffee/

Now if some inventive cowboy (or creative recipe writer) chooses to soft-boil a whole egg in the kettle before pouring off the coffee, that is his choice—-but it doesn’t mean that is the traditional way to make Cowboy Coffee.

Edit: Since you saw that in a 1940’s cookbook, I decided to check one of my own to see what they said. In the 1942 Boston Cooking School cookbook (aka Fannie Farmer Cookbook), there is a recipe for “Boiled Coffee” that calls for mixing 1/2 cup ground coffee and 1 beaten egg (with shell) OR 3 eggshells, with 1/2 cup cold water and a dah of salt. Mix well and put in the bottom of the coffee pot, then add 6 cups boiling hot water and boil 3 minutes. Then add another 1/2 cup cold water “to perfect clearing” and let stand 10 minutes, then pour.

The 1936 version of the cookbook (yes I have several of these from my mother and her mother) notes that “Coffee made with an egg has a distinctive rich flavor”, but this sentence is absent from the 1942 edition. Then the 1965 edition introduces the recipe for Boiled Coffee with the headnote “Old-timers think that boiled coffee, made with an egg, has the best flavor of all”.

But nowhere in any of the recipes do they refer to this method as Cowboy Coffee, and I doubt any camp cook on the cattle drive would waste an egg that way. He could, however, use the shells from the eggs he cracked for the morning’s pancakes to settle the coffee grounds.

I am sure the Italians would love that photo of you dressed up in cowboy gear making that coffee. Maybe include a copy of the recipe.

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7468 posts

SJ, if I’m staying at a hotel that has those auto-coffee machines, I use a cappuccino cup and make it, plus press the button for an espresso. That might give you what you’re wanting.

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7468 posts

Kim, we were in Torino, too, and yes to their special treats! I will be staying in Palermo next year for five days and wondering how many Caffè al pistacchio I will be able to enjoy!

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583 posts

Thanks for sharing this article, it makes me want to go back to Italy for coffee! I've been 3 times and haven't had a bad cup of caffè yet. I did not know about the etiquette of not licking the coffee spoon, so glad to learn that!
Jean, I did the same thing with an automatic coffee machine at a hotel in Florence. That extra shot of espresso really helps start the day.

Posted by
3250 posts

Good idea, Jean.
However, half the pleasure of coffee in Italy for me is being served in a busy bar with all the machines hissing, the china clinking, the Italian voices around the bar.
I can close my eyes and smell and hear it now!!
I hope you enjoy Palermo….its a great city.

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1450 posts

My Google search reveals the egg coffee combination being called Swedish coffee or church basement coffee, best made in a vintage enamel pot. I have been served this concoction in a church basement, from an enamel pot.

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16135 posts

No one else has heard of Swedish Egg Coffee? Pretty sure I remember my 2nd generation in-laws reminiscing about having that one at their MN church's social gatherings. There is a Lutheran church food hall at the state fair that still serves it.

https://www.mnstatefair.org/vendor/3231.1/

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3073 posts

It appears that the list of dissenters is growing. I'm stickin' with my original statement, and finding my cowboy hat.

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1450 posts

Kathy, I checked your link, they add ice cream and call it a Lutheran Latte!!
Bring your hat, Paul, and I'll buy you a cup!

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16135 posts

...they add ice cream and call it a Lutheran Latte!!

😂🤣

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498 posts

Besides the wonderful flavor, I love the theater of the coffee bar, as some have already mentioned. It’s definitely ‘holy’ in a way, never slip shod. And I love it’s always served in real cups and always the proper sized cups. I rarely drink coffee at home but love cafe macchiato in Italy, especially for a midafternoon pick me up. Sigh.

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2 posts

Sometimes the attitude at a coffee bar in Italy can be a bit much. Some of the patrons seem hardened by annoying Americans. When I hear them talking about me behind my back i have learned to lie and tell them im not American but Canadian. That seems to put an end to it but one reason I follow the local coffee ordering customs, albeit begrudgingly.

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3208 posts

Never been in a local coffee bar where there was conversation among the patrons—- they are quiet and businesslike, having the morning espresso.

Do you say that in English or Italian?

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2 posts

maybe i'm unlucky and stumbled across a rare jerk.

i say it in italian. it's not pretty but gets the point across.