Let’s start at the beginning, shall we!
Coffee, which was first introduced in the 1500s, has established its own culture in Italy! Coffee beans were first introduced to Europe through trading ports in Venice in the 16th century, when the global coffee trade was booming. Coffee shops began to appear in towns, first as meeting places for the local intellectuals, then as a social space for the general public.
Venice alone had over 200 coffee shops by 1763! There was also a backlash against the bean, with the Catholic church initially branding it the "Devil's Drink", but after trying a cup himself, Pope Clement VIII gave it his blessing.
But it wasn't until the twentieth century that things really got going.
Coffee rituals have become a defining part of the day: a cappuccino in the morning, one or two caffè macchiatos in the afternoon, and espresso in the evening. And, like any culture, Italian coffee has its own set of seemingly enigmatic rules! When you order a latte, you'll get a glass of milk. After 11 a.m., ask for a to-go cup or a cappuccino, and you'll be labelled as a tourist.
How to start the day the Italian way? The day starts with a breakfast consisting of a pastry and a delicious milky coffee:
Cappuccino: Espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk are mixed in equal parts.
Caffè Latte: Espresso with more steamed milk and less foam.
Macchiato: Steamed milk is “marked” with a splash of espresso.
Meeting a friend at a café during the day? A caffè (or caffè normale) is literally an espresso, a small but powerful shot of black coffee that can be enjoyed at any time. Caffè is commonly consumed in Italy as an afternoon pick-me-up or after a meal.
Joining friends for a drink in the evening? Coffee is traditionally consumed al banco, or at the bar, with friends in Italy. Italians are usually standing al banco, talking with a caffè in hand!
Espresso: the popular one.
As it more accurately captures the essence of the coffee bean than any other process, Espresso is the most prominent coffee. Espresso's temperature and pressure efficiently distill out the flavour molecules, resulting in a much higher ratio of crema oils and flavour compounds than other types of coffee.
Italians follow the so-called galateo del caffe' when drinking espresso in a bar or serving coffee at home. This coffee etiquette states that you should use nice china cups with plates, pre-heat the cups, and pour coffee until the cup is around two-thirds full.
It's advised to drink a small glass of water before drinking your espresso to clear your palate. Italian bars occasionally keep this custom alive by including a small glass of water with your espresso. (However, you will almost always have to request and pay for the water!)
Quick tip if you are ever visiting Italy: you can ask for a caffè liscio instead of an espresso (especially if you're in the Veneto region of Northern Italy). You will receive an espresso shot, but you will easily pass for a local! Ask for a lungo if you like your espresso with a little more water than normal. Instead, request a ristretto for a concentrated and condensed espresso.
What is an Espresso?
Espresso (ess-PRESS-oh) is a highly concentrated, full-flavored coffee served in "shots." An espresso machine is used to force pressurised hot water into very finely ground coffee beans. The outcome is a stronger-than-coffee liquid topped with a "crema," a brown foam that develops when air bubbles collide with fine-ground coffee's soluble oils and sits on top of a properly pulled shot of espresso. Espresso's rich flavour and lingering aftertaste are enhanced by the crema.
Espresso is made using the exact same plant as coffee, and is grown, processed, and roasted the same way. Any origin and roast coffee can be used to make espresso. The difference between coffee and espresso is in the grind and the treatment of the beans. Until hot water is pushed into an espresso machine, the beans are ground to a finer consistency than coffee and tightly packed. This produces a shot of espresso, which can be consumed straight or used to make a variety of drinks, such as cappuccinos and Americanos.
Create your own coffee routine with our vast array of Italian coffee and espresso now that you're an Italian caffè connoisseur. Buon caffè!