Italy is famous for its love of coffee, its cafe culture and the creation of beverages that are now a mainstay for millions of people around the world, each and every day! Italy has been setting the trends in the coffee industry for more than 400 years and although no coffee bushes are actually grown in the country it has still been a major world trader since the 16th Century.
The discovery of coffee in Europe played a significant role in the economy as well as the cultural life of its countries. In the 16th Century, and for several centuries to follow, much of the available water was unsafe to drink and consequently most people drank large quantities of alcohol as a safer alternative. However, when coffee was discovered this turned out to be a far better alternative and because the water was boiled the bacteria and other parasites in the water were neutralized.
A Brief History Of Coffee In Italy.
It is believed that coffee was first discovered by accident in Ethiopia by a goat herder in the 9th Century. The goat herder was looking for his herd when he found the goats jumping up and down in a hysterical way, having eaten the berries of a wild bush. The curious goat herder took some of the cherries from the bushes back to his camp that night and after boiling them in water, nervously tried the infusion. The legend has it that he didn’t sleep for several days; and in this way the tradition of drinking coffee began!
What is known for sure though, is that coffee first arrived on the shores of Europe in the 16th Century, during the Ottoman sieges of Vienna and Malta. The first Europeans to trade coffee as a consumer product were the opportunistic merchants of Venice; who mostly traded with Constantinople, Cairo and other Italian city states. At that time, coffee was called ‘kahve’ and was brewed to be a strong black beverage which would help people to stay awake and focused.
Every region in Italy has its own specialty dishes, wines and of course, coffees! There are so many types of coffee in Italy that there’s something to suit everyone’s tastes; with some regions using spices, others using different combinations of milk, steamed milk, coffee and even liqueurs. Therefore, when you’re in Italy, particularly in rural or far flung regions, don’t forget to ask the barista if there are any coffees which are unique to their region.
Most Popular Italian Coffee Brands.
Authentic Italian coffee makes an amazing gift for friends and family back home but it’s also something you should have in your own kitchen cupboard! Here’s 5 of the best which are not only local favorites but big overseas sellers.
- Bazzara Dodicigrancru: This delicious blended mix is 100% Arabica and made from 12 of the world’s best Grand Cru beans and espresso blends. This is one of Italy’s best sellers and if you haven’t tried it before this aromatic coffee is bursting with flavors of rum, almonds and a subtle hint of orange.
- Caffe Mauro Centopercento: This strong Arabica coffee blend is sourced from beans grown in the ideal climates of Central and South America and produces a deliciously deep colored brew. With sweet berry and chocolate flavors this is the perfect blend for making espressos or cappuccinos.
- Pellini Top 100% Arabica: This superb coffee is 100% Arabica with a low caffeine content and produces a rich, mild coffee with slight chocolate and fruity undertones. It’s perfectly accompanied with amaretti biscuits.
- Caffe Vergnano Gran Aroma: This gorgeous blend of Arabica and Robusta beans are created by the legendary Italian coffee makers, Caffe Vergnano, and will blow your senses with its super strong and spicy flavors. Perfect for a syrupy espresso with a rich crema, this blend can be used to make any number of other coffee beverages as well.
- Espresso Bar Perleo: As the name suggests, this blend is ideal for making your own espressos. Consisting of 85% Brazilian, Ethiopian and Central American Arabica beans and 15% Ugandan Robusta beans; the beans are selected by Sicilian master roasters giving the coffee a lovely floral scent that floats above a solid body of the strong coffee.
Italy’s Leading Coffee Machine Brands.
Coffee is a central part of Italy’s cultural life and so it’s no surprise that some of the world’s top coffee machine makers are to be found there.
Bialetti Moka Pot.
This world wide icon of coffee culture is a simple stove top espresso maker that produces consistently divine coffee without burning the beans and causing the bitterness that other less well designed options often do. Having been in business since 1933, Bialetti has hardly changed the design in nearly a century because they got it just right the first time round. It comes in several different sizes and is hugely inexpensive, making it very popular.
Bialetti Moka Pots also come in an electric, plug into the wall form, but the traditional stove top option is the usual choice for people in Italy, where no household is without one! It’s easy to clean and extremely durable; so it should literally last you a lifetime.
Gaggia RI 9380/46 Classic Pro Espresso Machine.
If you prefer to have an automatic machine make your espresso for you then this offering by Gaggia, one of the best manufacturers in Italy, is the perfect choice for you. It’s sturdy, kitchen top design includes a steam wand so you can froth your milk to make an authentic cappuccino.
Gaggia makes its consumer machines to the same specifications as its commercial designs so you can be sure of durability and efficiency. Gaggia makes a wide range of coffee machines but the Classic Pro Espresso Machine is hard to beat on the consumer market; and you can use the espresso and steam wand to make any coffee you might order in Starbucks, only better!
De’Longhi Nescafe Dolce Gusto Coffee Maker.
This pressure based coffee machine system delivers professional grade coffee with super rich aromas and amazing flavors every time. Its LED screen makes it easy to control and takes the stress out of making your cup of morning coffee.
The De’Longhi Coffee Maker uses premade capsules to guarantee consistent results but as a result if you prefer to grind your own coffee this isn’t for you. The machine does have much shorter brewing times than its competitors and, what’s more, you can even make hot or cold coffee drinks with it!
Alessi Espresso Maker 9090.
Alessi are one of Italy’s classic coffee machine makers that have been producing quality equipment since 1921. It’s stainless steel design and hand washable parts are durable and it operates on a stove top with a similar design to the Bialetti alternative. The design of the machine ensures that your coffee comes out smooth and rich in flavor without bitter or overdone tastes which can ruin an otherwise perfect espresso.
How To Order Coffee In Italy.
If you’re ordering coffee then it will help if you know what to ask for. Italians take their coffee very seriously and so if you want to fit in with the locals then knowing the right terminology will go a long way!
Generally, if you want an espresso you should just ask for a ‘caffe’; which will be served in a small glass espresso cup and saucer. You’ll usually get a free glass of water with your espresso and often, a small biscuit in the saucer. To be polite about asking for your coffee you should ask for ‘un caffe per favore’; which means ‘an espresso please’.
However, as you can imagine, there are many more options that you can order, each of which has its own Italian name. Here are some of the most common options that you might want to order while you’re in Italy. Also, don’t forget, when asking for your drink, always add ‘per favore’ at the end of your order to be polite!
- Caffe Lungo: A Caffee Lungo is not a long coffee, which you might order in America, but it’s an espresso made with twice as much water and contains about 1 ½ times the volume.
- Caffe Americano: This is my favorite Italian coffee. I normally drink this with a little bit of warm milk. Unlike what you might get in the States, an Americano in Italy is made from a single or double espresso which is filled up with hot water instead of the drip coffee which you might be used to at home. In some cases, you may be given a larger cup with an espresso, and then a jug of hot water to add to taste yourself. This gives it a much richer flavor and you can always ask for a small jug of milk if you want to.
- Cappuccino: This suave classic is a favorite order and is made from an espresso with steamed milk. You can also add sugar, brown is traditional in Italy, if you prefer it to be a little sweeter.
- Caffe Latte: In Italy there isn’t really any such thing as a caffe latte, which often takes tourists and visitors by surprise. However, don’t worry, because there are other very similar options which you can order instead without sounding like a fool ordering for a caffe latte! Firstly, you can try a Caffe Macchiato; which is an espresso that is ‘stained’ with a few drops of milk. Alternatively, if you prefer a milkier beverage then you can order a Latte Macchiato which is the opposite; a cup of warm milk that is ‘stained’ with an espresso. Therefore, for the most similar option to a caffe latte back home, in Italy you should order a Latte Macchiato. Remember too, that if you simply order a ‘Latte’ you’ll probably be handed a glass of milk by the barista, because in Italian ‘latte’ literally means milk!
Drinking Coffee In Italy – A Useful Tips.
Exploring the coffee scene in Italy is an exciting journey into the heart of a tradition that has spread to every corner of the world! Things are very different in Italy to the rest of Western Europe and even small things can be quite confusing.
For example, if you see a sign which says ‘Bar’ in Italy, don’t be put off it doesn’t mean that they only sell alcohol, because, in fact, they will certainly sell freshly made coffee at the counter; even if it’s alongside beers and other beverages.
Another thing to keep in mind when you’re ordering coffee in Italy is that you are not expected to leave a tip on top of the price of the coffee. If you really do want to leave a tip though you can leave a few coins but never feel the need to over tip.
Lastly, Italians have some fairly strict customs when it comes to drinking coffee. For example, nobody drinks coffee with milk after midday and you’ll get funny looks if you order one! According to Italian customs, milk based drinks are only meant to be consumed in the morning because otherwise it can negatively affect your digestion for the rest of the day, and even into the night! Therefore, if you’re ordering an after dinner coffee, it’s usually best to opt for an espresso!
Coffee In Italy – The Heart Of The Dolce Vita.
One of the most pleasurable things about visiting Italy is experiencing the coffee culture for yourself. There’s nothing quite like walking into a family run coffee house and ordering ‘un caffe per favore’ at the counter and then making some small talk with the other customers.
Of course, you can also make your own coffee at home to recreate the professional beverages you might buy in a coffee shop. If you are planning on upgrading your kitchen then you should certainly consider buying an authentic Italian coffee machine built by one of their master makers, as well as fresh coffee grounds by one of the world’s top brands.