First blogged November 8, 2012
Coffee marks time in Italy. Espresso at the bar on the way to work in the morning. Cappuccino before noon. Gulp back your espresso and head out of the bar in minutes. It is a caffeine-laced labyrinth if you want to immerse yourself in coffee culture in Italy. Here are a few rules that I gleaned from aTelegraph article from 2009.
Let’s start with the word ‘espresso’. In North America, and I presume in the UK, espresso is used in coffee shops or when you purchase coffee in the store to indicate a particular kind of coffee. In Italy, all coffee is espresso therefore if you simply want an espresso, you order il caffe’. I remember making this mistake a couple years ago. We were in a hotel in Marina di Ravenna that included breakfast. The first morning our hostess asked us if we wanted il caffe’ and I specified espresso. She gave me a very odd look and said, “Si’, il caffe'” then shook her head presumably thinking she was dealing with an ignorant foreigner – which I was – at least about coffee.
As I mentioned, cappuccino should only be consumed before noon and even then between 11am and noon is questionable. The thinking behind this is that hot milk is not good for you on a full stomach which you presumably would have after lunch. And god forbid that you should order a cappuccino after a meal in a restaurant. This would certainly label you as a boorish foreigner. What applies here to cappuccino also applies to any other coffee drink that contains milk.
Coffee is ordered in a bar. Bars are not quite the same as in North America. Besides serving alcohol, they also serve coffee, soft drinks, gelato, pastry, panini, pizza, and (if you are lucky and in Sicily) arancini. Children can enter bars. Bars open in the morning and, at least in Cianciana in the summer, stay open until 2 or 3 in the morning.
In Canada, if I go to a coffee shop and order a coffee, I will sit and sip my coffee taking my time to finish it. In Italy, if you drop by a bar to order il caffe’, you stand at the bar, stir in heaping spoonfuls of sugar and toss your coffee back quickly. Afterwards you drink the glass of water they often offer you, and then you head off out the door – no wasted time. Another note – if you are living in a small town, you should spread your custom between all the bars in order to stay on friendly terms with everyone.
What to call your coffee: these are just a few of the options you can get in a bar.
Il caffe’ – we would call this espresso. It will have a thin light brown foam on top which is called ‘crema’. You will hear the gentlemen in the bar discussing the quality of the crema as it is considered a very important part of the quality of the coffee.
Caffe’ Hag – this is decaf. It is the name of the largest producer of decaf coffee and has been adopted as the general name for it.
Caffe’ Americano – this is a much weaker and more bitter coffee and is closer to what is normally served in North America. Italians also call this acqua sporca or dirty water which tells you what they think of it.
Caffe’ con Panna – espresso topped with whipped cream. Yum!
Caffe’ Corretto – espresso with a small shot of liquor – often grappa (very strong Italian liquor) but other liquors can also be use.
Cappuccino – pretty much the same as in North America.
Caffe’ Macchiato – espresso with just a touch of milk and foam.
Food that you can get in a bar: