I once met an Italian who isn’t Drink coffee. He pointed to the fact, but you saw that he was tired of having to explain his disability every time a new acquaintance uttered a standard Italian greeting: “Prendiamo un caffè?” (“Do you have coffee?”). I suspect his windy but slightly passive-aggressive manner hid deep pools of self-doubt and underground lakes of wounded male pride. Vegetarians they develop the same nonchalant but scary look when you travel to places like Mongolia where meat is attached to a meat side dish. But this Italian was not a visitor, he was a native. He was a Mongolian vegetarian.
Coffee is so much a part of Italian culture that the idea of not drinking it is as foreign as the idea of having to explain its rituals. These rituals are outlined in stone and are not always easy for strangers to understand.
In fact, as in any cult that is respected, they are intentionally difficult to understand, so initiates can recognize each other above the bar without having to shake hands curiously (which would only lead to stubborn cappuccino stains).
Some might argue that the Italian coffee cult is now a world church with branches in London, Dubai and Bora Bora. But even though it is Arabica coffee the mix is often perfect, cups of just the right size and shape, machines like Made in Italy as they come, Italian cafes outside Italy almost always adapt to the culture of the host – just like the vast majority of Chinese restaurants outside China. Following the example of a local espresso seller on the street, you run the risk of going off the right path when you arrive in Italy.
So here are for those who want to be homey in the style of the real Lorenzo in Arabic style, the Ten Commandments Il Culto del Caffè.
The right way to drink coffee, say Italians
1. Milk in the morning
Cappuccino, caffé latte, latte macchiato or any milky form of coffee can be drunk only in the morning and never after a meal. Italians are horrified at the thought of hot milk hitting a full stomach. My American friend, who has lived in Rome for many years, continues to knowingly violate this rule. But she learned to at least apologize to the bartender.
2. Keep it simple
You shouldn’t mess with coffee. Demanding mint frappuccino in Italy is like asking for a single malt whiskey and lemonade with a stick in a Glasgow pub. There are only one or two regional exceptions to this rule that have been blessed by the General Synod on Coffee. V Naples, you can order a caffè alla nocciola – frothy espresso with hazelnut cream. V Milan You can impress the locals by asking for un marocchino, a kind of upside-down cappuccino, served in a small glass, first sprinkled with cocoa powder, then whipped with a lump of frothed milk, then seasoned with espresso.
3. Never say ‘espresso’
As it reminds me, don’t use the word espresso. It’s a technical term in Italian, not everyday. Because espresso is the default setting and a single default dose, a single espresso is simply known as un caffè. And to my detriment, don’t even say ‘expresso’.
4. Double problem
If you want, you can order un caffè doppio (double espresso), but be aware that this is not an Italian custom. Italians drink a lot of coffee, but they do so in small, even doses.
5. Say it out loud
You will confidently head towards the bar, place an order, even if the barista is facing you, and then pay at the checkout.
6. Ticket only
If it’s a bar at an airport or station or a tourist spot where a barista yells “card” at you, if you can bear the embarrassment, you’ll pay before you spend.
7. Standing space only
Don’t sit down unless you have a very good reason. Coffee is a pleasant drug, but still a drug and should be consumed in one standing. Would you sit down at a table on the sidewalk and take your daily viagra?
8. Some like it hot
Expect your coffee to reach a temperature at which it can be lowered immediately according to the previous commandment. If you prefer to burn your lips and tongue or blow the foam off your cappuccino in vain trying to cool it down, ask for un caffè bollente.
9. Allowed drinks
From the Holy Trinity caffè, cappuccina and caffé latte the following versions are allowed, and only these: caffè macchiato or latte macchiato – espresso with a hint of milk or hot milk with a hint of coffee (remember, mornings only); caffè corretto: an early morning drink by an Italian builder, espresso, “corrected” with a snail of spirits or spirits; and caffè freddo or cappuccino freddo (ice espresso or cappuccino) – but beware, this is usually pre-sweetened. You can also ask for un caffè lungo or un caffè ristretto if you want more or less espresso water.
10. That’s all
All you may have heard is heresy.