When In Rome - Coffee the Italian Way
In a scene from The Sopranos, one of the main characters unleashes an expletive-rich rant on Starbucks and its bastardization of the Italian coffee culture. In real life, the company that has permeated virtually every corner of the developed world has yet to successfully set up shop in Italy...Even though its founder is said to have been influenced by the Italian coffee scene. So, what is it about this boot-shaped country and its favorite beverage that is so powerful? Now that coffee is a world-wide phenomenon, what was espresso meant to be in the first place?
Like an Italian
Most Italians can spot a tourist on demand. Sometimes, it's through the usual giveaways: a camera strapped to the neck or the liberal butchering of the native language. But other times, it's by the person's beverage of choice. Yes, your drink is showing.
Walk into an Italian coffeehouse and order an espresso; you might as well stamp "tourist" on your forehead. This may be the birthplace of the espresso, but nobody orders an espresso...ever. If you were a spy and didn't want to blow your cover, ask for un caffè, champ. Request a caffè doppio, or a double espresso, and you're pushing it. It is not good form to let a caffè go idle, so unless you can gulp a double shot down just as quickly as a single shot, don't super-size the drink.
Yes, Italians drink a lot of coffee, roughly 70 million cups of espresso a year. Statistically, that's 600 shots per person, according to a report cited by ABC News. But, most Italians drink their caffè in lots of small doses throughout the day as opposed to one Venti serving. Give it a try!
Beyond the Caffè
If you care to venture beyond espresso, do so in the Italian fashion. Just as custom implores Americans not to wear white after Labor Day, it advises Italians to avoid milk-based beverages after 12...or 11, depending on whom you ask. In the same vein, you're unlikely to find an Italian patron sipping on a latte or cappuccino after a meal. It makes sense; frothed milk mixing with undigested food seems like a recipe for disaster.
Considering a flavor shot? Think twice about it, if you're in Italy. Italian coffee is traditionally very, well...traditional. Additives, other than a smidge of cream and sugar, are not common practice.
Don't be taken aback if the barista asks for a ticket before preparing your drink. This is still common practice in some coffeehouses. Instead of paying for a drink after it is consumed, Italian custom calls for payment before a beverage is made. Trust! According to the Coffee Research Institute, the majority of Italian baristas have over a decade of experience behind the counter. Chances are your espresso will be expertly prepared by a very well trained and experienced professional.
A Word about the Founding Family of Espresso
The Italian espresso culture owes a large debt to Achille Gaggia, the "Father of the Modern Espresso Machine." It was Gaggia's founding father who invented the lever piston machine, forever changing the landscape of the espresso market. Today, the Gaggia name and is still synonymous with great Italian coffee and espresso. As Italy's #1 manufacturer of espresso machines, Gaggia continues to make home machines increasingly popular in its home country and worldwide. Don't be surprised if you visit a store and find yourself surrounded by Gaggia coffee. Chances are, if you drop in on an Italian household, you'll see a Gaggia espresso machine, be it a manual, super- or semi-automatic model, perched on the countertop.