What does someone taking a trip to Italy need to know about coffee in Italy? First, there are multiple ways to imbibe the beverage, as this infographic from the charming website CharmingItaly.com attests. (For a larger version, click HERE.) Perhaps the most common misperception among people taking trips to Italy involves cappucino. To Italians, it’s first and foremost a breakfast drink. Some Italian servers refuse to serve cappucino to guests after dinner! Apart from that cautionary tip, we suggest that coffee lovers branch out and try as many Italian variations on the drink as possible while on your trip to Italy.
The short version of the history of coffee in Italy is thus: Coffee arrived in Europe from Ethiopia via Istanbul, where it became popular as early as the 1500s, and then from Istanbul to Venice. This is where the first European coffeehouses sprouted up. Eventually there were scores of them along Venice’s canals. The most famous is Caffe Florian, on St. Mark’s Square. It opened in 1720 and is considered to be the oldest operating European Coffeehouse. Rome’s claim to coffeehouse fame is the Antico Caffe Greco, on the famous via Condotti near the Spanish Steps. A popular tourist spot (as is Caffe Florian), it’s worth dropping in to see where many famous European artists and intellectuals sipped coffee over the years.
As for me, on my first trip to Italy, I was sixteen, too young to be a coffee drinker, so the history of Italy’s coffee culture with its 18th century roots escaped me. By my next trip to Italy, I was in college and I’d become a serious coffee aficionada. I was first among my friends to have her very own caffeteria, that iconic stovetop coffeemaker and staple in most Italian homes. I stopped in coffee houses on that trip, but it turns out not the most famous ones. All I knew back in these pre-Starbucks days was that Italians had a thing for coffee. Like so many things, Italians take making it, serving it and drinking it to new heights.