Italian coffee: Celeste Wong's global guides
Our expert barista takes a deep dive into Italian coffee with café owner Francesco Sanapo, including traditional rituals, how to order it and the perfect recipe for at-home brewing
Want to learn about Italian coffee culture? Expert barista Celeste Wong chats to Francesco Sanapo, Italian coffee champion and owner of Ditta Artigianale café in Florence. Find out why Italy’s coffee culture is so special, how to order coffee in Italy and how to make Italian coffee at home.
What is special about Italian coffee?
Italian coffee has probably had the largest influence on coffee culture worldwide. The way coffee is brewed is a source of passion and there is strong loyalty to tradition.
Italy also manufactures some of the best and most widely used espresso machines in the world, where innovation and quality is often unparalleled. The migration of Italian settlers around the world from the 1870s to 1920s saw a majority land in the USA and also in Victoria, Australia, and London, where their coffee culture has had a huge influence that continues to this day.
How do Italians make coffee at home?
The most popular type of at-home brew method in Italian households is the moka pot/stovetop/percolator because they like it strong. Francesco says that every Italian will drink a moka pot coffee at home before they leave the house.
Espresso is the main order when Italians go to cafés. At Francesco’s specialty cafés, espresso is ordered by locals about 80% of the time, compared to his international customers who order lattes or milky coffees about 60% of the time. There’s an unofficial tradition that you’re 'not allowed' to order a cappuccino with salty food or after 12pm. For example, having pasta and truffle with a cappuccino would break the hearts of Italians!
How to order coffee in Italy
Here are some of the most popular Italian coffee serves:
- Espresso: It means fast. So it is not acceptable to wait 10 minutes for your espresso! It is a strong, intense beverage, about 25-30ml, extracted through a high-pressure coffee machine. The taste is intense, usually has notes of dark chocolate, dry fruits and roast almonds with a cocoa-like bitterness.
- Cappuccino: Traditionally this serve has a single shot of espresso with wonderfully creamy, foamy milk. The foamy milk settles slightly to almost form layers; ⅓ espresso, ⅓ creamy wet milk, ⅓ pillowy foamy milk. The volume is about 120-150ml. I’m personally a fan of a well-made traditional cappuccino, as it’s quite hard to find one that is up to a good standard! Here's my cappuccino recipe.
- Macchiato: This is a widely popular coffee serve in Italy. It consists of a drop of milk (often the creamy part of the milk foam) on top of a 25-30ml espresso. Macchiato means 'to stain', so the milk literally ‘stains’ the espresso, taking the edge off with some sweetness from the milk. In total the maximum milk added is about 10ml. Here’s my macchiato recipe.
- Latte: If you order a 'latte' in Italy, don’t be shocked if you get just a glass of milk, because the word means 'milk'! You must ask for a 'café latte' if you would like espresso in it. In Italy this serve is steamed milk without foam and a single espresso. The volume is about 150-200ml.
Italian coffee trends
In Italy right now there is a big movement towards new milks, plant-based milks and no-milk beverages. The younger generation of Italians are travelling, which makes them more open to new trends like cold brew or filter coffee with single origin. This may seem a little ‘behind’ other European counterparts, but it is an ode to the strength of their tradition and coffee culture. The traditional way of appreciating espresso was for its bitterness. But there are now movements towards an appreciation for notes of fruitiness and acidity that you get from arabica beans. Traditionally people drink their coffee standing up, but now many take more time, sitting at a table. Francesco says Italians generally hate to line up or wait. He says, "where waiting is acceptable in hospitals and post offices, no one should ever line up and wait for an espresso!". Though it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a better espresso if it is faster…
How to make Italian café latte at home
Italian coffee kit you’ll need:
- Coffee grinder – to grind your coffee to a medium grind.
- Moka pot – you can find different types suitable for gas, electrical and induction.
- Espresso cup
- Milk frother
- Coffee beans – for an Italian experience, try Ditta Artigianale.
Italian coffee recipe
- Unscrew the moka pot and fill the bottom piece with cold water. Fill it just up to, but not beyond, the pressure valve.
- Fill the perforated basket with ground coffee. You don’t need to tamp it or push it down hard. Just make sure the coffee is level.
- Place the moka pot on the hob or stove top and slowly heat the water.
- While you’re waiting for the stove top to heat, pour 200ml of milk into your milk frother and press start. There is a button that heats the milk with very little froth, which you can use on the right hand side.
- You can check that the coffee has started to percolate by opening the lid. But be careful, it can be hot to touch! Once it is full, and there is no more coffee bubbling through, take it off the heat and serve immediately, by pouring into a 200-250ml glass.
- Pour the hot milk in with the espresso.
- Enjoy your Italian latte.
Francesco Sanapo is an Italian coffee champion and owner of Ditta Artigianale café in Florence.
Header image credit: Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images