Coffee culture – Italian style

My friend and coworker Russ now lives with us – and he survived the first few months without his personal espresso machine. Well, now he’s brought it up with him, so we have a great – and fairly manual – espresso machine. I say manual because it’s one of those where you decide how long the “pull” is – you can make espresso ristretto to your heart’s desire.

This espresso immersion reminds me of my first trip through Italy in 1995, on one of those ubiquitous Europe backpacking trips. “Cafes” in Italy are a different creature than we’d expect them to be – by the example of France. The coffee culture is a lot more of a walk-thru experience.

Sure we encountered a lot of the classic outdoor piazza cafes – where you get charged more to sit outside than inside, because the servers have to walk less far or something. But the real “cafes” were small hole-in-the-walls with just a counter. Oh, and the ubiquitous paper things that passed as “napkins” but are closer to Christmas wrapping paper than anything. We would stop by for a coffee, and hope to find a place to sit and enjoy the drink – to no avail. People would cruise in, order cappuccinos or espressos and down them at the bar like they were shots. And then off again. At all times of the day – 10am, noon, afternoon, early evening. A constant stream of people coming through the do coffee shots – or drink their cappuccinos while standing at the bar. This wasn’t a sit-back and enjoy experience – this was a “get my fix and move on” experience.

That was our experience in the bustling city – Rome, Florence, the like. Things did take a slower turn, with occasional chairs and tables, is some of the smaller towns. Nonetheless, the “barristas” – usually men in their fifties – never slowed down. In post-tourist season Sorrento on the Amalfi coast, we found a nice little local spot – that had chairs and a table, natch. While we wiled away the time in comparative luxury taking up to 20 minutes to finish our cappuccino, we watched the the two crusty old men behind crank out cappuccinos faster than any tattoed, pierced American coffee-shop jock – all will barely breaking out faster than a shuffle.

A decade later, I visiting Noli on the Ligurian coast with my wife Amanda, and we stopped in on a small cafe during a Sunday afternoon. Finally here was a coffee shop we’d recognize in the US – or France, for that matter. No sooner had we arrived when a crowd from a wedding showed up – about fifteen people crammed into the coffee shop, getting their fix on their way to the reception. One of them took the job of ordering the drinks – and I’ll never forget the litany of Italian that I could actually understand: “cappuccino, cappuccino, cappuccino, espresso, cappuccino, cafe latte, cappuccino, espresso, espresso, cappuccino, …..

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2 Responses to “Coffee culture – Italian style”


  1. 1 benbes December 29, 2009 at 10:36 pm

    I lived in italy for 3 years and I use to have my espresso in the same bar almost every day, it has an amazing flavor that i will never get anywhere else, I guess either the machine or the guy who use to make or maybe both, well my point is that when u like something hard to leave it.
    braun coffee grinder

  2. 2 Edwardo October 6, 2012 at 2:26 am

    I have seen that clever real estate agents everywhere you go are starting to warm up to FSBO Promotion.
    They are noticing that it’s in addition to placing a sign post in the front yard. It’s really with regards to building relationships with these retailers who at some point will become buyers.
    So, when you give your time and efforts to encouraging these vendors go it alone — the “Law of Reciprocity” kicks in.

    Great blog post.


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