Coffee in Italy

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A Coffee roastery in Palermo
Caffè roasting in act
Trieste, the seat of many coffee companies

Italians are well known for their special attention to the preparation, the selection of the blends, and the use of accessories when creating many types of coffees. Many of the types of coffee preparation known today also have their roots here.[1] The main coffee port in Italy is Trieste where there is also a lot of coffee processing industry.[2] Italian coffee consumption, often espresso, is highest in the city of Trieste, with an average of 1500 cups of coffee per person per year. That is about twice as much as is usually drunk in Italy.[3]

Caffè (pronounced [kafˈfɛ]) is the Italian word for coffee and probably originates from Kaffa (Arabic: قهوة, romanizedQahwa), the region in Ethiopia where coffee originated. The Muslims first used and distributed it worldwide from the port of Mocha in Yemen, after which the Europeans named it mokka.[4] Caffè may refer to the Italian way of preparing a coffee, an espresso, or occasionally used as a synonym for the European coffee bar.


Pope Clement VIII: The Pope who popularised coffee in Europe among Christians

In Italy, like in most of Europe, coffee arrived in the second half of the 16th century through the commercial routes of the Mediterranean Sea. In 1580 the Venetian botanist and physician Prospero Alpini imported coffee into the Republic of Venice from Egypt,[5] and soon coffee shops started opening one by one when coffee spread and became the drink of the intellectuals, of social gatherings, even of lovers as plates of chocolate and coffee were considered a romantic gift. By the year 1763 Venice alone accounted for more than 200 shops,[6] and the health benefits of the miraculous drink were celebrated by many. Some representatives of the Catholic Church opposed coffee at its first introduction in Italy, believing it to be the "Devil's drink",[7] but Pope Clement VIII, after trying the aromatic drink himself, gave it his blessing, thus boosting further its commercial success and diffusion. Upon tasting coffee, Pope Clement VIII declared: "Why, this Satan's drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it."[8] Clement allegedly blessed the bean because it appeared better for the people than alcoholic beverages.[9] The year often cited is 1600. It is not clear whether this is a true story, but it may have been found amusing at the time.[10]

In Turin, in 1933, Alfonso Bialetti invented the first moka pot by observing the lisciveuse,[11] a steam pot utilized at that time for laundry. In 1946 his son Renato started industrial production, selling millions of moka pots in one year, versus only 70000 sold by his father in the previous 10, making the coffee maker (as well as coffee) an icon of Italy in the world. Naples, albeit being known today as the city of coffee, has seen it later, probably through the ships coming in the ports of Sicily and Naples itself. Some date the Neapolitan discovery of coffee back to 1614, when the composer, explorer and musicologist Pietro Della Valle sent news from the Holy Land, in his letters to the dear friend, physician, poet, Greek scholar and Mario Schipano and his gathering of intellectuals, of a drink (called kahve)[12] the Arab Muslims brewed in hot pots.

Some believe coffee arrived in Naples earlier, from Salerno and its Schola Medica Salernitana, where the plant came to be used for its medicinal properties between the 14th and 15th centuries. Celebrated by Neapolitan art, literature, music and daily social life, coffee soon became a protagonist in Naples, where it was prepared with great care in the "cuccumella", the typical Neapolitan filter coffee pot derived by the invention of the parisian Morize in 1819. Neapolitan artisans came in touch with it when brought, once again through the sea commercial routes, to the Port of Naples. An indication of the approach of Neapolitans to coffee as a social drink, is the practice of the suspended coffee (the act of paying in advance for a coffee to be consumed by the next customer) invented there and defined by the Neapolitan philosopher and writer Luciano De Crescenzo a coffee "given by an individual to mankind".[13]

Caffè espresso[edit]

A cup of Italian coffee, the famous espresso

Normally, within the espresso bar environment, the term caffè denotes straight espresso. When one orders "un caffè" it is normally enjoyed at the bar, standing. The espresso is always served with a saucer and demitasse spoon, and sometimes with a complimentary wrapped chocolate and a small glass of water.


Neapolitan caffettiera

Coffee maker[edit]

The instrument used to prepare caffè at home, the caffettiera, is essentially a small steam machine made of a bottom boiler, a central filter which contains the coffee grounds, and an upper cup. In the traditional Moka pot, water is put in the boiler and the resulting boiling water passes through the coffee grounds, then reaches the cup.[14] It was invented by Italian engineer Luigi Di Ponti in 1933 who sold the patent to Alfonso Bialetti, an aluminum vendor. It quickly became one of the staples of Italian culture. Bialetti Industries continues to produce the original model under the trade name "Moka Express". [15] [16] [17] The Neapolitan caffettiera operates somewhat differently, and needs to be turned upside down when the drink is ready. Its boiler and cup are therefore interchangeable.

The quantity of coffee to be put in the filter determines the richness of the final beverage, but special care is needed in order not to block the water from crossing it, in case of an excess of grounds. Some hints prescribe that some small vertical holes are left in the powder by using a fork.

A small flame has to be used to provide an appropriate moderate water pressure; a high pressure makes the water run too quickly, resulting in coffee with little flavour. The flame under the caffettiera has to be turned off ten seconds after the first characteristic noise is heard, and eventually lit again in case the cup was not filled.

Coffee house[edit]

A related but separate translation of the Italian caffetteria is coffee house or café: an establishment in which caffè was traditionally made with a Moka. These places became common in the 19th century specifically for enjoying caffè, while the habit of caffè drinking at home started at the beginning of the 20th century, when caffettiera machines (Mokas) became available to the general public.

In the older caffetterie (Italian, plural), frequented by the upper classes, art and culture events were held. So, many caffetterie acquired cultural importance (like Caffè Greco at 84 Via Condotti, Rome; or Caffè Florian in Venice, both established after the mid of the 18th Century ) and became famous meeting points of artists, intellectuals, politicians, etc. This caffetterie culture was mainly enjoyed by men, while women organised their tea meetings.

The traditional afternoon serving of caffè has an almost ceremonial formality: the caffè is always brought with a silver pot; porcelain cups (which should be fine china and as plainly decorated as possible) are served on a saucer with their small silver spoon on the right (on the saucer). Sugar is served separately, in porcelain pots, with a separate silver spoon. After taking caffè, smokers are usually allowed to light their cigarettes (the service typically includes a porcelain ashtray). If women are present, it is they who might grant the men permission to smoke.[citation needed] It is not usual to serve pastries or biscuits with afternoon caffè, but an exception can be made in case there are women at the table.[citation needed] The coffee pot has to be left on the table, for a second cup. After-lunch coffee is taken at separate smaller tables, not at the main one[citation needed] and children are not normally welcome to join adults in such formalities. In the 21st century, as smoking laws and local customs change, caffè drinking becomes less formal overall.

Since the early 2010s, Italy has seen a steady growth in the number of coffee houses serving specialty coffee, which cater to the growing local market for higher quality coffee.

Cappuccino is not related to traditional domestic coffee, being made with an espresso machine. Caffè-latte (also known as a latte in the U.S. and Café au lait in France) is made with a simple mixture of hot coffee and hot milk, and served in cups that are larger than tea cups. Caffetterie usually serve caffè-latte too.

Coffee house environments[edit]

Like bars, coffee houses have a long history of offering environments in which people can easily socialize amongst their own groups and (often) with strangers. This is reflected in language; when people say "meet for coffee," they primarily mean meet to socialize or talk. Historically, coffee houses have been places where people gather, chat, work, write (in particular, the writing of local newspapers), read (in particular, the same local newspapers that were written in coffee houses) and pass the time. Today, coffee houses are much the same—it's merely that ink and paper have been often replaced with laptops and newspapers have been replaced by blogs.

The layouts of coffee houses often include smaller nooks and larger, more communal areas. In a more crowded coffee house, it is common for strangers to sit at the same table, even if that table only seats two people. Coffee houses are typically cozy, which encourages communication amongst strangers.

Types of Italian coffee[edit]

The variety of coffee types in Italy is enormous and, while about 20 types of coffee are popular all over Italy, many regional varieties do exist.

Among the most popular Italian coffees are the standard espresso, the ristretto (a shorter espresso), the double espresso, the macchiato (espresso stained with milk), the marocchino (espresso, chocolate syrup, milk and cocoa), the cappuccino (espresso with whipped milk foam), the caffelatte (coffee and milk in similar quantities), the affogato (a ball of ice cream showered with espresso), the shakerato (a long espresso mixed with ice and strained), the caffè ginseng (black coffee mixed with extract of ginseng), the cappuccino matcha (cappuccino where matcha is used instead of coffee), the caffè d'orzo (barley coffee) and the caffè con panna (coffee with whipped cream).[18]


  1. ^ A lot of information in: Universita del Caffe "Kaffee Inspirationen. 70 Rezepte zum Geniessen." (2013).
  2. ^ Helmut Luther "Warum Kaffeetrinken in Triest anspruchsvoll ist" In: Die Welt, 16 February 2015.
  3. ^ Gisela Hopfmüller, Franz Hlavac "Triest: Die Kaffeehauptstadt" In: Falstaff, 28 June 2020.
  4. ^ "Embassy of The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia : Coffee". Embassy of The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Archived from the original on 11 August 2013. Retrieved 27 October 2013.
  5. ^ Ukers, William Harrison (1935). All about Coffee. Library of Alexandria. ISBN 9781465523976.
  6. ^ Orey, Cal (2012). The Healing Powers of Coffee: A Complete Guide to Nature's Surprising Superfood. Kensington Publishing Corp. ISBN 9780758279972.
  7. ^ Ukers, William H. (2012). All about Coffee: A History of Coffee from the Classic Tribute to the World's Most Beloved Beverage. Simon and Schuster. ISBN 9781440556326.
  8. ^ Cole, Adam (17 January 2012). "Cole, Adam. "Drink Coffee? Off With Your Head!", Salt, NPR, January 17, 2012". NPR.
  9. ^ Wallin, Nils-Bertil. "Coffee: A Long Way From Ethiopia", Yale Global, November 5, 2002 Archived April 1, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  10. ^ "Coffee Facts and Statistics". Archived from the original on 2010-06-01. Retrieved 2010-06-08.
  11. ^ Morganti, Vittoria (2015). Volevo la torta di mele. Piccolo viaggio sentimentale a tavola: Piccolo viaggio sentimentale a tavola (in Italian). FrancoAngeli. ISBN 9788891720764.
  12. ^ Bausilio, Giovanni (2018). Origini (in Italian). Key Editore. ISBN 9788827901380.
  13. ^ Crescenzo, Luciano De (2010). Il caffè sospeso (in Italian). Edizioni Mondadori. ISBN 9788852014161.
  14. ^ "Why We Love the Bialetti Moka Pot". The New York Times. 26 January 2021. Retrieved 12 October 2023.
  15. ^ "Bialetti Technical Description". Retrieved 12 October 2023.
  16. ^ "Who Made That Moka Express". The New York Times blogs. Retrieved 12 October 2023.
  17. ^ "Italy's coffee pot king was buried in the appliance that made him famous". Retrieved 12 October 2023.
  18. ^ "All Italian Coffee Types - How to Order a Coffee in Italy". Lost on The Route. 2021-01-04. Retrieved 2021-01-06.

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