Observations on Coffee in Italy

(yes, i know this is a little late)

As an owner of an espresso machine and red-blooded Seattlite, I was very interested to see how the Italians drink their coffee. Over the course of our stay, we had the opportunity to try many cups of coffee at a variety of establishments. Here are a few things we observed…

Espresso = 0,85 – This is the standard price for the most common coffee drink we saw in Italy, a single shot of espresso served at a stand-up bar counter in a small ceramic cup with a matching saucer and demitasse spoon. The price is nearly 100% consistent across the board, though the premium to sit down while drinking your coffee varies and can double the cost of the drink. Adding a shot of Sambuca (as we saw somebody do) increases the price as well.

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Multitasking baristas – It’s common to see a barista making 3-4 shots of espresso at a time, simultaneously attending to a bunch of customers. Since classic manual machines (portafilters, tampers, …) are the norm and typically deliver two shots simultaneously to two separate cups, their job is a little easier than it sounds. At the autogrille (tollway restaurant, picture below), the coffees were coming out 4×4 and I had one in front of me before even ordering it!

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Efficient milk re-use – Unlike in America, it’s common for coffee shops to steam a bunch of milk ahead of time, then use the pre-steamed milk for macchiatos and cappuccinos as they’re ordered. This makes it possible to serve a milk-based drink nearly as quickly as it does to serve a straight espresso. There’s no waiting in line for your morning drink – it’s set down in front of you nearly immediately after you order it! Milk drinks are rarely ordered after lunch.

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“Bar” – Italians typically enjoy their espresso at a “bar”. These “bars” are not fancy lounges, dance clubs, or pubs. The typical “bar” is a place where people go for drinks and snacks, which almost always serves both coffee and beer.

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American drinks – Cafe Lattes are in fact sold in Italy, though they do not seem to be ordered very often (unlike their cousin, the Cappuccino). All drinks are small (no larger than 6 oz or so), and there is no such thing as a 2% triple-shot venti caramel frappacino. As far as we could tell, drip coffee doesn’t exist here either, though Cafe Americanos (espresso + water) are available. Other than Granita (a thick and potent cross between espresso and italian ice), we didn’t see any iced coffee drinks either.

Nescafe – No matter what anybody says, this is not espresso. It’s a disgrace to coffee in general. Frankly, I’m surprised it’s even legal here. I was only served this once.

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One thought on “Observations on Coffee in Italy

  1. I found that spain is much the same way with their coffee… which you may have already discovered.How was driving that Fiat btw? Did the stick lessons help?

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