In much of the world, when one asks for coffee, the variations are almost endless. Quantity, quality, and all too extravagant mixes (like the Thai custom of drinking it mixed with orange juice) make coffee a drink with no ‘rules’ for consumption.
But not in Italy.
In Italy, coffee is all a different story.
Meanwhile, when one generically asks for ‘a coffee’, they always mean an espresso, served in a small, hot cup, usually accompanied by a small glass of water to drink before sipping, to ready the taste buds to welcome the drink. Most importantly, coffee is a ritual, an intense moment of conviviality, a sacred pause. Yet, there are fun and historically interesting regional variations, and their recipes are deeply rooted in the hearts of Italians.
Piedmont – The Bicerin
We can only start with what is practically no longer a coffee, but a real dessert at the end of a meal: the glass shows the different layers of coffee, hot chocolate and milk cream. Named after the historic café in Turin that invented it, it can generally be found everywhere.
Val d’Aosta – Caffè alla Valdostana
More than a coffee, a true collective ritual: it is drunk with friends in the grolla, also known as the ‘friendship cup’ on cold winter nights. Besides coffee, the wooden container contains genepì (a typical liqueur), sugar, lemon peel, cloves, and juniper. Definitely a drink that makes you warm, both in terms of temperature and content.
Veneto – caffè Padovano (Padua coffee)
Created in the 1800s at the Caffè Pedrocchi (a famous hangout for intellectuals), it consists of a mixture of mint syrup, milk and cream poured over espresso with a sprinkling of cocoa and a few mint leaves to taste. Somewhat extreme, but tasty.
Marche – Moretta di Fano
A mix of coffee, aniseed liqueur, rum, and brandy (or cognac), flavoured with lemon peel and sugar. This is the drink of sailors, who would use it to keep warm at sea and give themselves energy. For everyone else, it is an excellent digestif at the end of a meal. A strong drink with a unique twist.
Campania – Naples and its black gold
Introduced to the city by Maria Carolina of Habsburg in the second half of the 18th century, coffee conquered the heart of Naples and has been one of its symbols ever since. Before the birth of the Neapolitan espresso, we had the ‘cuccumella’, a double filter coffee pot, which works by gravity, extracting coffee by percolation. Naples and the Neapolitans regarded coffee as a necessity, so much so that they started a tradition during World War II that continues to this day, that of the ‘hanging’ coffee: people pay, when they can, for two coffees, one to be consumed and the other one left ‘hanging’ meaning that it is already paid for by those who cannot afford it.
Apulia – Leccese coffee (or Salento-style coffee)
Also called ice coffee, a refreshing drink for the hot Apulian summer days. Coffee (preferably made using the mocha), almond milk and lots of ice. The idea is also quite recent and came from Antonio Quarta, one of Lecce’s ice distributors who used to pound and distribute ice in the city in the 1950s, when refrigerators were not yet available. And it was precisely the ice flakes that gave him the idea for this refreshing coffee, which has now become a tradition.
Sicily – granita (or rattata)
We cannot but end with one of the best-loved ways to enjoy coffee in hot Sicily: granita, to be served possibly with cream and perhaps accompanied by the typical ‘brioche col tuppo’. The origins of granita go all the way back to the Middle Ages, when the “nevaroli” used to go to Mount Etna in winter to collect ice and snow to store for the long summer months. This bowl-shaped delight has been the favourite breakfast of Sicilians and travellers ever since.
What are the “bon ton” rules for drinking a cup of espresso coffee?
Giorgia Fantin Borghi Giorgia Fantin Borghi explains it to us in a video with all the indispensable tips for drinking coffee with style, at the bar and at home