Connie Coles-Garrad explores the motivation behind Italy’s coffee culture
Until earlier this month, I thought I knew a bit about coffee. I’ve lived in one of the infamous coffee producing countries, Honduras, spending evenings drying coffee beans in the backyard from the finca around the corner. I’ve worked as a barista in an independent coffee shop, grinding the beans and perfecting my latte-art. I’ve attended a Colombian coffee class where I picked, roasted and tasted fresh coffee. And I’d even go as far as referring to myself as a self-confessed-coffee-snob who rarely has time for a filter coffee. So yes, I guess you could say that I thought I knew a bit about coffee.
That was until I visited Milan, Italy’s fashion capital (or in my personal opinion, a foodie’s dream).
The coffee culture in Italy is undeniably second to none. With an Italian caffé being synonymous with espresso (emphasis on the ESpresso, not EXpresso as many of us Brits love to incorrectly call it), day or night there’s a bar open poised to provide locals with their caffeine fix.
Cappuccinos surface for breakfast, but are immoral after midday; il caffé corretto is a somewhat exotified beverage due to the addition of liquor; and as for Frapuccinos… Che cos’è? They just don’t exist. Although, an affogatto (espresso poured over ice cream) can sure satisfy a sweet craving.
Something which particularly caught my eye in Milan was the complete lack of international coffee chains, which I am more than accustomed to frequenting. Being a Londoner after all, is it even possible to walk down a street without spotting Starbucks, Costa or Pret? In addition, never did I witness an Italian walking down the street with a takeaway cup. But why is this?
It appears that coffee consumption in Italy is more of a ritual: you order, down it al banco, pay and leave – with the odd 10 seconds spared for addition of a small sugar (sugar is optional; excessive sweetening is frowned upon). Even better, there’s no need to take your coffee to go as it is served at the perfect drinking temperature signifying no need for takeaway cups – the Latte Levy would sure be redundant over there. Furthermore, due to the concentration of an espresso it is thought to contain at least twice the amount of healthy antioxidants found in coffee, which are otherwise lost through other brewing methods. Health benefits of coffee? Now that indeed is music to a student’s ears.
Italians embody la dolce vita after all – or a lack of dolce in the case of their coffee – and seem to stay healthier for longer. So maybe we should be inspired, remove the takeaway cups from our desks (recycling is encouraged!) and instead exploit our caffeine cravings as means of brief respite from our busy lives.