A Guide to Italian Coffee Culture

In most countries around the world, coffee is a sacred part of people’s morning ritual. Brewing a pot at home or dropping by the local café on the way to work is how many of us get that morning boost to stay awake during the day. However, in Italy, coffee is much more than merely a morning pick-me-up.

Italian coffee culture is something all of its own. The type of bean that’s used, where it’s from, the way it’s roasted, blended, ground, brewed, poured, topped – all these steps are a crucial part of the final product and experience. Each major city has its own unique coffee traditions, and like food, it is sacred to Italians where the day begins with coffee and ends with coffee. There are rules and rituals that must be followed at each step of production and consumption. Even the type and size of the cup matters. 

There’s no doubt about it, Italians have created a coffee culture that is unlike anywhere else in the world. But to really understand why coffee is so sacred in Italy, you first have to understand Italians.

Italian Culture

Italians know how to enjoy the finer things in life. They take things slow, savour everything, and only do things that bring them pleasure. Italians are a traditional bunch who honour their heritage, history, and family; they love art, architecture, and most importantly, food. 

Food to Italians is more than just sustenance and flavour. It’s a means of establishing a connection and ties to their family and friends. It’s a form of expression and passion. To understand a recipe, you need to really understand the region in which it came from, the traditions, the way of life, and the culture. Food is a deep and poignant part of their roots, and coffee is not much different.

Italian Coffee Culture

It’s a well-known fact that Italians love their coffee. Since its first arrival in Venice from the Middle East in the 16th century, Italians have worshipped this “black gold”. It became another ritual, just like food. Like tea to the Irish, coffee became Italy’s symbol of friendship, hospitality, and a way to bring people together. In Italy, you’ll find cafés, also known as bars, scattered across towns and city centers, as places where people meet to enjoy an espresso or cappuccino with friends and have good conversation.

It’s Enjoyed Any Time of the Day

Unlike the rest of the world, coffee is acceptable at any time of the day in Italy. Italians will typically enjoy this beverage steadily throughout the morning, afternoon, and evening, in small doses. Similar to North American restaurants that are equipped with coffee machines, each Italian eatery often has its own espresso machine ready to serve customers' caffeine needs at any time.

How and When to Drink Espresso

Espresso is the heart of Italian coffee culture. The brewing process for this drink is specific to ensure that each sip combines rich scents, flavours, and a full-mouth feel. Coffee beans used for espresso are a medium roast and ground very finely so that they can be easily compacted. These compacted grounds are then exposed to extremely hot water that extracts flavour from the beans and drips down to result in a cup of espresso. This highly detailed process creates the smooth, satisfying taste that this drink is known for. 

In Italy, if you order a coffee, the barista will likely make you an espresso. This is because, in Italian, an espresso is called a caffé, which closely resembles the word “coffee.” Where North American culture tends to strictly drink this hot beverage in the morning, Italians are content to drink an espresso at any time of day. This is especially true after evening meals that might be overly rich. 

Cappuccino is a Morning Drink

Cappuccinos are increasingly popular in North America, where these frothy beverages can take on many different flavours. The traditional method of brewing, however, combines a third of milk, foam, and espresso. If espresso is consumed throughout the day, when should you drink a cappuccino in Italy? The answer is before 11 a.m.

Italians find milk beverages, even those made with their beloved espresso, too heavy to digest throughout the day. Therefore, they are only ordered during breakfast hours as a morning treat. You can certainly order a cappuccino after 11 a.m. if you are excited to try an authentic Italian one, but it will let your barista and others around you know that you are a tourist! 

Without Food

There’s a certain way to enjoy coffee in Italy. At breakfast, it’s commonly paired with some milk and a fresh croissant or pastry. Whereas at other times during the day, it’s consumed without a meal and savoured all on its own. After a meal, coffee is always black since Italians find adding milk after a meal is heavy and prevents proper digestion.

Standing at the Bar

It’s not uncommon to find Italians drinking coffee while standing at the bar. Referred to as “al banco,” Italians will commonly enjoy coffee at the bar with friends. This is because coffee is seen as part of a social occasion. If you’ve got a bit more time on your hands and are looking to enjoy the morning or afternoon, you might order your drink “al tavolo” and sit at a table while you read the paper or soak in the sights.

More than Just Espresso

“Coffee” in Italy is not the same as it is here in North America. In Italy, there’s espresso, macchiato, cappuccino, corretto, ristretto, and the list goes on. However, the most common is caffè. While some of these beverages have spread to North America and been heavily modified by unique processes and the addition of various flavours, the drinks that originated from Italy are still served in their purest and simplest form. 

A mixture of espresso and milk can be combined in many different ways to create Italian espresso drinks, and often their names denote the look or process associated with making them. For example, a caffé macchiato combines hot espresso with drops of warmed milk to give it a stained look, which is what macchiato means. Alternatively, a latte macchiato starts with hot milk followed by drops of espresso.

The Process is a Form of Art

Italian coffee is all about the beans and how they are roasted and blended. They are extremely picky when it comes to the quality of the beans and the way they are blended. Depending on the region, you’ll either find full-flavoured Arabica or caffeine-rich Robusta blended with Arabica. Italians are also master craftsmen at roasting coffee beans. Each step in the process is an art form, done precisely to ensure the beans retain the freshest flavour profiles and richest olfactories.

Never Served in a Large Cup

Coffee is normally enjoyed in a small cup in Italy and rarely consumed in a large mug. And in various regions, coffee is often ordered in a glass instead of a porcelain cup, as many Italians believe it tastes better and because it dissipates less heat. From the region where the beans are grown to the roasting and brewing process, Italian coffee demands greatness and exceptional flavours in every aspect, even at the final pour. If you are visiting the birthplace of coffee culture and yet find yourself looking for a hot beverage resembling a North American coffee shop, you might try a caffé americano, which is a diluted form of espresso closely emulating a cup of black coffee. 

Wondering how to drink espresso like an Italian from the comfort of home? If you’re just as passionate about coffee as the Italians are, you can savour the finest blends with ORO Caffè. We make premium Italian coffee and export it to North America and around the world. Our roasting process was birthed from tradition, and it has embraced innovation as a way to satisfy and delight customers wherever they choose to enjoy their favourite hot beverage. You can choose from beans or capsules to be compatible with your favourite Nespresso machine. 

Wondering how to drink espresso if you are lacking the right equipment? We have you covered. Choose from an array of unique espresso machines that can create iconic Italian beverages from the comfort of your kitchen. Embrace your inner Italian and browse our online selection and order yours today! Contact us for more information about our products.