by Isobel Lee
The Italian love affair with coffee is an enduring one. While the black stuff first arrived through the Republic of Venice in the 1600s, coffee is a passion which has spread across the Italian peninsular, transforming into a slightly different experience in each city. In Naples, for example, serving coffee in boiling hot cups with the sugar already added is a custom you still find today. Neapolitans are proud of their culinary traditions and many will tell you that the
coffee in Italy gets better the further south you go. But true to its historical journey, the north-east can lay claim to many famous torrefazioni, traditional coffee bars where the beans are freshly ground, operating in older times as the only points of distribution for coffee in a city.
So it is that the city of Trieste – a melting pot of culture and trade for more than a thousand years – has another strong claim as one of coffee’s original homes in Italy. As a key trading post in former times, it was here as well as Venice itself that coffee was first introduced via Turkish merchants. One of Italy’s most famous brands, Illy, heralds from here; the company’s founder, Francesco Illy, is said to have developed the modern espresso machine.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go to Venice, Trieste or even Naples today to find a great cup of coffee. During your Rome tour make time to visitone of the city’s historical coffee houses, such as Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè, located just a few moments walk from the Pantheon in Piazza Sant’Eustachio, and the eponymous basilica of Sant’Eustachio, which has stood there for a thousand years. Saint Eustace, according to legend, was converted to Christianity after experiencing a marvelous vision of a stag with the cross in its antlers, and this curious device can be seen today on top of the basilica and in the emblem of the coffee bar. Look out for Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè’s beautiful mosaic floors, unchanged, like the counter, since its opening in 1938. And don’t forget to ask for your coffee without sugar if you so wish – otherwise it comes ready sweetened, in line with tradition.
Another old-style coffee experience can be found in Piazza di Pietra, home of one of the most overlooked attractions in Rome, the Temple of Hadrian. Gran Caffe La Caffetiera is a café steeped in Neapolitan traditions, right down to the boiling hot cup designed to keep your coffee at volcanic temperatures. The refined interior with its fabric paneled walls recalls more elegant times, but you’ll pay extra to sit down. Grab a coffee standing up – al banco to savor the ambience at local prices.
If you’re feeling confident, don’t forget to order your coffee “made to measure” as the Romans do – ask for it ristretto – made with a little less water, even stronger and blacker – macchiato – with a drop of milk, added hot or cold – al vetro – in a glass, just “because”, or even corretto – “corrected” with a dash of liquor. Order a caffè latte or cappuccino for something slightly more filling, but don’t make the tourist’s mistake of asking for a latte on your Italy trip, or you’re likely to get a glass of milk