Muslims drank it instead of wine for a "high". Many boasted its medicinal properties for all sorts of stomach ailments. In the middle ages it was it was introduced to Italy through the trade port of Venice. At first, people wanted this Muslim drink banned, but in 1600 it was given a Papal seal of approval. In England Tea is Queen, but in Italy coffee is King.
Italians drink a lot of coffee. But coffee isn't just a hot beverage, it's a religion, a way of life. It was love at first sip in the sixteenth century when it was introduced from the Muslim world. There's as much protocol and tradition in drinking coffee in Italy as there is when a Japanese has a Tea Ceremony. The huge, overly sweet, overpriced cups at Starbucks are a world away from caffè Italiano.
Here's an important fact that most people miss entirely when visiting Italy (I know we did). Bars in Italy are akin to a cafe in France or America. In Italian bars, coffee is consumed, and they have an assortment of cornettos or other pastries and some basic menu items for snacks or lunch. (I wish I had know than when lunchtime rolled around and all the restaurants were closed). Bars are a meeting place--and a place to jump start your day.
When ordering coffee at a bar, you're expected to pay first, get a receipt, then hand the receipt to the barista making the coffee. Baristi are well thought of in Italy. It's a job that commands respect and honor. Before they fill your order, they'll put a little tear in the receipt so you can't use it again. For an American, it seems odd to have to tell someone everything you want first, pay, and then go and pick everything up. They even do this in airport and train station snack shops.
If you want espresso, don't ask for espresso. Ask for "una caffe, per favore". You'll get a small cup of espresso. When standing at a bar, drink your coffee fast (even if it's hotter than hell). Italians never sip. Sure, you can sit at a table like a tourist, but you'll be charged an extra couple of Euro for a cover. Italians are furbo (crafty), so they keep the two Euro in their pocket and stand to drink. By the way, you might get a small glass of water with your coffee, or you'll see glasses and a pitcher of water on the counter. If you do, it's not typically used for cooling or watering down your espresso. It's for cleansing your palette. In any event, do not try and sit for hours to drink coffee. Drink it fast or you'll be scorned as the Ugly American Tourista. And if you want to add a sugar free sweetener, don't ask for Sweet n Low, ask for Dietor, an Italian brand name.
Try to remember... never, never call a cornetto a "croissant"! Croissants are French and fairly soft (they're made with lots of butter), while a cornetto is very Italian and has a crunch (made with lard or olive oil)-- perfect for dunking. In Italy, a typical breakfast is a caffè and a cornetto or other pastry. That's it. No one eats a big breakfast. They save up their appetites for large meals during extended lunchtime (2-3 hours long). Coffee is a big part of the morning ritual.
Caffè: espresso, always a small cup, many Italians add a sweetener.
Caffè Americano: watered down espresso, but still stronger than American coffee.
Caffè Doppio: Double espresso
Macchiato: a small cup of espresso with a splash of milk
Marocchino: small cup of espresso with some cocoa powder and dash of milk
Ristretto: a strong shot of espresso made with the normal amount of coffee but half the amount of water.
Caffè corto: short espresso
Caffè lungo: long espresso
Cappuccino: espresso with steamed milk on top (with breakfast)
NEVER after 11am, and NEVER after dinner
Caffè Lungo: Literally, long coffee. This is a large cup of watered down espresso.
Caffè Corretto: Not for breakfast, this is an espresso laced with a shot of liquor, like Grappa.
Caffè Freddo: Chilled and shaken with ice, served in summer.
Granita di Caffè: in summer--a coffee slushy.
Caffè Latte: Milk flavored with coffee, served in a glass.
Caffè Deca: Decaff coffee. "Deca" can be used with to order other decaffeinated coffee types, for example, "Cappuccino Deca".
Making coffee Italian style is a fairly straightforward thing, once you understand the nuances, that is. Get yourself a Moka pot, look for a blend that suits you and start brewing.
For Moka pots: Do NOT tamp your grounds. This is a technique used on high pressure pro machines... the Moka is a low pressure device. Just fill your Moka chamber to the top with loose grounds and screw it shut.
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