The alarm sounds and suddenly I’m back in the here and now, awake.
Rubbing the sleep from my eyes, I rise, shave, shower, dress and head downstairs into the kitchen to prepare, or go straight out the front door in search of, my first cup of coffee.
It’s the one sure thing that I count on, day in and day out. You see, I’m habitually tied at the lips to coffee, or caffè as it’s known here in Italy.
Long before there was Starbucks, the Serene Republic of Venice in the mid 1600s was already importing Ethiopian coffee beans, via Turkey, by the boat loads. Venetians — first in just about everything back then — quickly mastered the art of blending, roasting, brewing and enjoying caffè.
In 1720, Caffè Florian opened its doors in Piazza San Marco (St. Mark’s Square) and local and international notables of the time flooded in for the best cup of mud around the Lagoon: poet-philosopher-diplomat Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and adventurer-author-womanizer Giacomo Girolomo Casanova, followed later by romantic poet Lord Byron and writer-social critic Charles Dickens, just to name a few. Still thriving today, Caffè Florian is the oldest, continuous operating coffee house in all of Europe.
But I don’t have to go to Venice for a good cup of Giuseppe (Joe). I can just stay right at home in Vicenza, grind it fresh and make strong American-style drip coffee. Or, I simply drop a cialda (capsule) of pre-measured caffè into my mini electric steam machine for traditional Italian fair. Or, better still, I can head up the street and around the corner into the centro storico (historic center) and take my pick from any number of bars where great caffè is served, in a variety of ways, by expert baristas.
Italy set the bar pretty high, and continues to raise it, with its many different and tasty ways of presenting the beans of the genus caffea arabica shrub in a cup — either ceramic or glass in small, medium and large sizes — known as espresso, a condensed shot of strong Italian roast coffee.
Just head to any bar and listen to the patrons as they shout out their orders — they all know what they want well before they enter — or scan the menu board hanging on the wall near the clock, or glance at the caffeteria side of the paper menu on your table near the sugar packets.
Caffè ristretto (the classic short shot of espresso). Caffè lungo (long shot of espresso). Caffè macchiato. Caffè doppio. Macchiatone. Caffè latte. Caffè latte scuro. Cappuccino. Caffè corretto. Caffè mocha. Caffè freddo (over ice in the summer). Decaffeinato. There’s even a caffè orzo, a non-coffee coffee made from barley. I’ll pass.
Italians, no matter from which part of the country they hail, pay special attention to the caffè preparation, selection of the blends, and the use of accessories.
The art of caffè is really the Bel Paese‘s unique little culture-within-a-culture. And, I guess that’s why I’m caffèbitual.
Mi scusi. Un caffè macchiato caldo, per favore.
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©The Palladian Traveler | ©Tom Palladio Images
Never learned to drink the stuff. Give me a steaming cup of herbal tea or frothing hot chocolate. That’s heaven for me on a cold morning.
Sally — Tea or hot chocolate is fine. Whatever gets your “Vespa” running. 🙂
Bellissimo Tom !
Great spot for italian coffee ! 😀
Exclusive in the world !
Hai raggione, Max
I enjoyed your post almost as much as I enjoy my noisette (shot of espresso with a dash of milk). Coffee is an essential part of my mornings and when in Paris or Istanbul or Rio it is an all day ritual that makes me feel part of the culture. Loved reading your post.
Lidia — The noisette is the same as a caffe macchiato (stained — a shot of espresso and topped with frothy mil). I always order a noisette when I’m in France. Thanks for stopping by.
What? There was coffee before Starbucks? The Sbux founder wanted to have stand-up espresso bar, Italian-style originally, but his friends/advisers suggested the coffeehouse model, which has obviously worked. As you know, I’m a tea-total-er. But I’ll have a coffee with additions sometimes, too.
The story I heard is that one of the three original founders was over here in Italy on vacation — Verona’s Piazza Bra’ to be exact — and he observed how Italians rushed into bars several times a day, downed an espresso (express) and went on their way. It didn’t hurt that he took the concept to Seattle, USA’s coffee-drinking capital. Btw, many Italian bars offer their tea-totalers a Gingseng option. Keep that in mind next time you visit the Bel Paese.
A great post for this theme. Love your photos and narrative. 🙂 Also love coffee in the morning – if there isn’t a cuppa joe, it isn’t morning and I probably won’t make it to afternoon.
Thanks, Pat. My motor won’t start in the morning, either, until I feed it high-octane java.
Love the photos! I have been living in Italy for awhile now but have still only a simple understanding of the coffees, stickings to cappuccino or espresso, occasionally the maracchino or ginseng type. I have never heard of latte scuro though, what is that?
Evelyn — It’s a caffe latte with a double shot of espresso, warm milk and just a touch of froth on top. I sometimes even ask for a scuro-scuro, with three shots of espresso in the mix. Glad you enjoyed the post.
I’m insanely jealous of your access to italian coffee!!! Although ours is freshly ground and brewed by the cup, it’s not quite the same 🙁 I’m an addict of the first order!
So, how was the tea in China, or did you find Starbucks during your travels? 🙂 Glad you’re a java addict, too.
So interesting, to see so many coffee habit posts, but everyone’s interpretation and environment is so very different. Loved your Italian history lesson.
Thanks for the note, Annette.