Italy: Conversations over Coffee and Tiramisù
Coffee in Italy:
“Coffee is a beverage that puts one to sleep when not drank” – Alphonse Allais
Italy is undoubtedly the coffee capital of the world. Italians have taught the world how to brew, order and drink coffee. They have created the vocabulary associated with coffee, developed the machines to brew it and invented a variety of blends. The process is elevated to a form of art – built on tradition and authenticity. It is a gastronomic experience to drink coffee in Italy the way Italians drink it.
Coffee was first imported by the merchants of Venice in the 16th century. Since the Arabs did the trading, it was initially rejected by the Church as an Islamic threat to Christianity. Later, after sampling the beverage, it was decided that in fact, coffee was a delightful drink and thus, the first café opened in Venice in 1683. Caffè is the Italian word for coffee (normally meaning an espresso) and it probably originates from Kaffa, a region in Ethiopia, the birthplace of coffee.
Beans, Roasts and Blends:
Italian coffee mainly uses the Arabica variety of the coffee bean, known for its full flavour and low caffeine content. However, some regions also blend the stronger Robusta variety with the Arabica. The roaster is a master craftsman, who roasts the beans to perfection according to the batch. Medium to dark roasts are preferred because they are better for espressos. Italian roasts are less oily than French roasts. The grinding is done mostly before the brewing for a fresh flavour.
In Italy, coffee is brewed according to a perfect science using the correct blends and accessories. Cafés are called bars and they are almost always full, no matter the time of the day. Italians follow a particular unspoken protocol for drinking coffee at various hours during the day.
Different types of Coffee:
Though it translates literally to coffee, a caffè is a shot of espresso. It is served in a small porcelain cup and drank all throughout the day and especially after dinner. The correct measure is about 25 ml of water passed through 7 gms of freshly ground coffee in around 23 seconds!
This is Italy’s most famous coffee. It is equal parts espresso, steamed milk and foam. Italians have it for breakfast usually and never after 11.00 am. It is served in a 180 ml porcelain cup and is warm rather than hot.
It is an espresso with a dash of steamed milk. It can be had at any time of the day.
It is a large cup of milk (latte) with a shot of espresso.
Caffè Corretto: It is an espresso with a splash of alcohol such as grappa or cognac.
Developed more for tourists, this is an espresso diluted with hot water.
Caffè Lungo: It is a ‘long’ espresso with a splash of hot water but stronger than Americano.
It is an espresso shaken with sugar and ice in a cocktail mixer, and poured into a tall glass.
Coffee brewing machines:
To brew a perfect cup of coffee, you also need the right machine to do it, whether at home or in a bar.
It was in 1901 that the first espresso machine which could be used in bars, was invented by an engineer named Luigi Bezzera from Milan. Translated literally, espresso means ‘express’, which encompasses the process of expressing water through ground coffee and each customer getting coffee expressly prepared for them.
It swiftly conquered the world because it was able to brew an individual cup of espresso for each customer.
The design kept on improvising till the mid 20th century with the birth of the modern, stainless steel horizontal machines. The barman came to be known as a barista and he was able to prepare and serve multiple cups of coffee quickly and efficiently.
Popular espresso machine companies:
It is no surprise that some of the best espresso machines are made in Italy.
Around 1930, another engineer, Alfonso Bialetti invented Moka express for the Italians to brew their espresso from the comfort of their home. It is an aluminium coffee maker placed on top of a stove. The boiling water in the bottom chamber evaporates into the ground coffee in the top section, creating a smooth shot of espresso. It became very popular and is found in 90% of all Italian homes. There are now many companies manufacturing it and it is also made in stainless steel.
Popular Moka Pot companies:
Popular Italian Coffee brands:
Though Italian coffee culture is world famous, it is a fact that Italy, because of the climate, does not produce coffee beans. But the various companies, some of which date back to the 19th century, have the expertise to source, blend and roast the coffee beans. Some famous brands are:
Since 1895, the Lavazza family has worked with passion and innovation, following the vision of their founder Luigi Lavazza. The company has presence in around 140 countries and 70% of its revenue is generated from outside Italy.
Luigi Lavazza opened the first store in Turin in 1895. He studied the different characteristics and origins of the plants and discovered the art of blending. The Lavazza coffees of today are a result of his idea of combining coffees from different parts of the world.
Lavazza blends are a mix of Arabica as well as Arabica and Robusta beans. The coffee is sold in the form of Beans, Ground, Capsules, Pods, single serve and instant. The company also manufactures coffee machines and accessories.
The Lavazza Museum in Turin is an educational experience into the world of coffee culture and the company’s history.
A family run company, Illy delivers coffee from ‘bean to cup’ in the true sense. Green beans are sourced from around the world and arrive at Illy’s roasting facility in Trieste. Only the best Arabica beans are chosen. After a stringent selection process, the beans are blended taking care of their distinct characteristics. Roasting is an art form at Illy and packaging is a science. All this makes Illy a world class coffee brand. The different varieties available are: Beans, Ground, Capsules, Pods and instant coffee. Coffee machines, accessories and jams are also a part of the company’s offerings.
Segafredo Zanetti coffee reflects the expertise and passion of four generations of the Zanetti family. From farm to cup, its coffee is served in over 100 countries and in more than 350 Zanetti cafés.
From small beginnings in Piedmont in1882 to an internationally famous company today, Caffè Vergnano has come a long way. Led by the family for five generations, the focus is on quality, creativity and innovation. From beans, ground coffee to capsules, its coffee satisfies many different tastes.
Famous historic cafés of Italy:
This is the oldest café in Europe and a symbol of the city of Venice. Over the years, artists, poets, politicians and intellectuals have frequented this iconic address.
Gilli is the oldest café in the city of Florence. It is world famous for its confectionery products, chocolates and coffee.
In the elegant Art Nouveau interiors of this bar, the traditional espresso as well as its variations are served to visitors giving them an unforgettable culinary experience.
It is one of the most important cafés of Turin, one of those which have best conserved the city’s atmosphere and traditions.
This is the oldest bar in Rome and second oldest in Italy. It is a historical landmark for the city. Keats and Byron drank coffee at the marble tables of this ornate café.
Caffè Zucca is a Milanese institution located in the famous Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II since its opening in 1867.
Tiramisù is one of the world’s most famous Italian desserts. When in Italy, tourists flock to the many pastry shops to enjoy this delicious treat.
History traces the birth of Tiramisù to Treviso in 1800. The name derives from Tireme sù in the local dialect, meaning ‘pick me up’. Other accounts date its invention to the restaurant ‘Le Beccherie’ in Treviso in the late 1960s! And still others give credit to the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the 1950s. Whichever version is correct, the fact remains that Tiramisù is one of the most consumed desserts in the world.
Tiramisù is like a layered slice of cake, made with ladyfingers (savoiardi-sponge cake biscuits) dipped in espresso and rum, mascarpone, egg yolks whipped with sugar and Marsala wine (zabaglione) and dusted on top with cocoa powder.
Some of the best places to eat Tiramisù in Italy:
Le Beccherie, Treviso:
I Tre Mercanti, Venice:
A World Tiramisù festival is held every year since 2017 over 3 days where non-professional enthusiasts, both Italian and foreign, battle it out for the title.
This culinary journey is all about satisfying cravings for caffeine and sugar!