By Alessandro Fusaro | June 5, 2015
You might think of coffee as just a hot beverage you drink from a paper cup in the car on the way to work. Here in Italy, coffee is not simply a drink, it’s a key aspect of the culture. It’s a social event and a tradition that Italians proudly preserve.
In Italy, we don’t have coffee chains (although Starbucks tried to open here!), but instead have coffee bars. Bars mark nearly every corner in Italian cities, and it is not uncommon to find four of them, one right after the other, on the same road. Usually family-owned and run, some bars have decades or even centuries of history.They’re generally pretty small–finding a bar with more than five or eight tables is rare–and each one has its own personality and design. All of them have two key items: the bar counter and an espresso machine standing behind it.
You’ll likely never ever see an Italian walking with a coffee cup in hand or jumping on an underground train with one. Everything coffee-related takes place within the walls of a coffee establishment. In most cases, a person enters a bar, orders their coffee, drinks it standing at counter, pays (afterwards!) and leaves. The time required to perform this sequence of actions is approximately one minute.
This may come as a shock to Americans, but in Italy we don’t have size options. Nogrande, no tall, no enormous vat. All coffee beverages have standard sizes and huge volumes simply do not exist.
If you find yourself looking for a pick-me-up in Italy, here are some helpful tips on what–and when–to order:
Espresso: Forget about Frappuccinos, chai tea lattes or any other sugar-filled drinks. Italians drink espresso. If you want to order one, just say “un caffé per favore.” For us, espresso is coffee; the two terms are completely interchangeable. An espresso is bitter and intense and comes in a heated white ceramic cup–we call it a tazzina. No paper cups, no plastic lids, no wooden stir sticks. An Italian coffee always comes with a small ceramic plate and a silver spoon.
Caffé Americano: We don’t have standard American drip coffee in Italy. Instead there’s something called caffè Americano, but it’s rare to find places with that kind of coffee machine. You can try to ask for one, but it’s possible the barman will look at you like you came from the moon.
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