Italians are world-renowned for many of their culinary traditions, like risotto and coponata, but anyone who has been to Italy knows that the food is just the beginning. From beer and wine to coffee, Italians excel at creating delicious beverages as well. When it comes to coffee, Italian cafes serve as a model for the high-end coffee industry in cities around the globe. Places like Rome’s Caffè Greco and Rosati, Florence’s Caffè Giacosa and Chiaroscuro and Milan’s Majestic Cafe and Caffe Sforzesco set the standard for coffee craftsmanship.
The traditional coffee in Italy is known globally as an espresso. To order, simply ask for a caffè (caffè doppio if you want a double). If you are looking for the best, most concentrated espresso, try ordering a caffè ristretto. This “restrained” version of the traditional has now become standard in many of the best cafes worldwide. Look for a shot that is flavourful, but not bitter, with a thin layer of slightly foamy, pale or reddish crema sitting on the top.
There are many ways to modify your caffè depending on your taste and where you are in Italy. Each region has its own specialty, such as bicerin (coffee, hot chocolate and whole milk) in Turin and caffè alla nocciola (coffee with hazelnut paste) in Napoli.
Many people are already familiar with the standard cappuccino, which, in Italy, is meant to be enjoyed earlier in the day. Often, Italians will have a cappuccino for breakfast with a cornetto brioche, a breadier version of the croissant served plain or filled with stone fruit jam (stone fruits pair exceptionally well with coffee). When drinking a cappuccino, look for equal proportions of espresso, steamed milk and foam. The foam should have a uniform texture and you should never taste scalded milk. If you want less milk, try the classic caffè macchiato, which is caffè with a small touch, or “mark,” of steamed milk.
Later in the day, order a caffè corretto, which will have a bit of liquor, such as grappa, added to it. Although we often think of biscotti as a traditional pairing with coffee, it is more often served with the sweet dessert wine, vin santoin, in Italy. Luckily, in Italian dining culture, you don’t have to choose one or the other. It is common to open a meal with an Aperitivo course, accompanied by an Italian beer or aperitif, and end a meal with a dessert and digestivo, rounded off with a delicious caffè.