Italian coffee: The ultimate guide

I always remember those bars on the sidewalk of the Corso Como street in Milan. The tables for those who want to sit and enjoy an Italian coffee like cappuccino with brioche and a place at the bar for those who just want to enjoy an espresso and continue on with the day’s activities.

Many times we want to transport ourselves to those small streets with bars in the sun. To sunbath in summertime enjoying a coffee alone or around a great chat with a friend.

I am sitting here writing at home in Argentina, whilst in the world travelling has become way beyond our possibilities in 2020. It just remains in our memories, like a movie —and to tell you the truth— I miss it a lot.

When I feel nostalgic about travelling, I close my eyes and I try to imagine the smells and tastes of the places where I would like to be, with an Italian coffee in hand. Would you like to join me on a trip to the world of Italian coffee?

In this article you will find different ways to drink Italian coffee:

How to drink an Italian coffee even if you’re not in Italy

Why is Italian coffee so important if Italy does not produce coffee beans?

The most important Italian coffee brands:

Let’s travel with our senses with the aroma of Italian coffee

¨Non esiste buongiorno che non porti con sé il profumo dell’espresso.¨
There’s no good morning that doesn’t carry the scent of espresso.

[Anonymous]

In Italy, we find several types of coffee. One-shot of espresso is the base for them all.

italian coffee varieties

Here are the most important ones, for all tastes

Espresso

Espresso contains 7 grams of coffee concentrated in 30 millilitres of water. It can be strong for the stomach if you are not used to it. We get espresso by passing hot water through the grounded coffee by a pressure mechanism. By doing this, we decrease the preparation time of the classic infusion to get the hot coffee within a few minutes.

espresso coffee
Espresso coffee

What does espresso stands for?

The word “espresso” derives from the speed of preparation. This definition of espresso meaning “fast” is known practically only in Italy. In Anglo-Saxon countries, people believe that the name refers to an infusion delivered by a pressure mechanism. An espresso coffee does not have the same texture of normal coffee. Due to the pressure suffered in the espresso machine, it forms a ‘cream’ of coffee, a dense consistency, and a strong aroma.

Ristretto

A ristretto is a short espresso. It has the same dose of ground coffee as the regular espresso, but with half the water. To make regular espresso you need about 30 millilitres and for the ristretto it will be about 15 millilitres. Therefore, it results in a more concentrated and intense coffee. The flavour of the ristretto remains in our mouth longer than of the espresso. So, we could say that the various acidic nuances of the espresso won´t emerge in the ristretto.

Espresso macchiato

This is the same espresso, but with a little milk foam added —not contain liquid milk— . It remains strongly dense, but softer with the milk foam.

Cappuccino

A cappuccino contains about 150 ml of beverage. It consists of 30 ml of espresso added by equal parts of milk and cream.

cappuccino

Americano

Americano coffee is the result of adding half a cup of hot water to one espresso.

Mocha coffee or moccacino

If you like chocolate as much as coffee, the recommendation is then a mocha coffee. It consists of one espresso with milk and hot chocolate, a special option for winter days.

Latte or flat white

I usually drink a latte or a flat white when I’m hungry because they have more milk. The only difference is that the latte also has milk foam, besides liquid milk.

Can´t travel to Italy to order an amazing Italian coffee? No worries

Coffee bar machine

Italians drink their coffee at the bar and at home, and so can you

There are ways to enjoy Italian coffee at home if you have the right devices.

Moka pot, la macchinetta

Invented in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti, owner of a foundry, the Italian moka is a very important part of the daily life of millions of Italians. It is a small device built to make espresso by passing water under pressure through the granulated coffee.

Each moka pot has the right amount of water to make 2, 3, 5 or more espressos (considering 30ml per drink).

moka
Moka Bialetti

When buying a moka it´s better to know how much use it is going to get. So pay attention, if the moka pot it´s just for you, it´s best to buy a small one.

There are different brands, Bialetti and Alessi are excellent choices.
If you prefer the electric moka version, Ariete and DeLonghi have incredible products as well.
The price for a moka goes from 15 dollars for a small one and up from 20 to 30 dollars for a medium and a large, around 50 dollars for an electric one.

Capsule or pods coffee machines

Let´s not confuse automatism with low quality.

The capsules are single doses of ground coffee enclosed in a small rigid container —aluminium or plastic— . In contact with the air, coffee reduces its quality. So, the sealed capsule preserves the coffee even better than an open package.

The first one was the Nespresso. Since 2014 the system is no longer under patent and many brands offer a variety of coffee in capsules compatible with the same machine.

Some aspects to take into account if you are planning to get a capsule coffee machine:

  • The initial purchase is not always expensive. The machines only work with capsules, so individual doses are more expensive depending on the amount of coffee made.
  • Pay attention to the amount of water you use. Italian espresso needs 30 to 40 millilitres. If you use more than necessary you will get a ‘watery’ coffee or something close to an Americano.

Espresso coffee machines

If you prefer a more automatic machine, espresso machines are the ones that emulate the bar’s espresso. Though the prizes are not so compelling, maybe you could find a good deal in some places, but it usually goes around 250 to 300 dollars.

They are easy to handle, you just have to know how much water to put in for an espresso or other types of coffee. The grounded coffee must be for espresso and preferably it should be Italian for a 360° experience.

Why is Italian coffee so important if Italy doesn’t produce coffee beans?

History and culture have made Italy one of the main coffee producers in the world. Although Italy does not produce coffee, it specializes in the production process. It has the best machines to produce the finest coffee.

What makes Italian coffee so good and known all around the world?

The goodness of Italian coffee comes mainly from roasting and grinding.

The Italian roasting is —if not the best— one of the best in the world.

If you visit Milan don’t miss the opportunity to go to the Starbucks in Piazza Cordusio, near the Duomo.
Do you find it strange that I recommend you a Starbucks whilst promoting traditional food? Well, let me tell you that the Starbucks Cordusio managed to break out of the mould by integrating itself into the Italian coffee culture in the centre of Italy’s second-largest city.
Starbucks Cordusio incorporated a complete coffee production within the same bar. It has specialists dedicated to the roasting of coffee and at the same time they enlight customers of the bar with curiosities like where the coffee comes from, how the coffee is produced, etc and then customers can taste the coffees in different ways, a 360-degree sensory experience!

The Traditional Foodie

The first step: The roasting of coffee beans

After harvest, coffee beans undergo the roasting process. They need this to release the aroma to be ready to use in any espresso machine or moka pot.

Italians prefer it intense

“Light” roasts are typical in Anglo-Saxon countries. “Dark” ones are widespread in the Mediterranean basin.

Italian-style roasting makes the coffee less acidic, it improves the taste of the product and allows certain aromas to form.

Coffee is more than a solution of caffeine, it has health benefits

There are many scientific studies about the healthy benefits of coffee. Natural antioxidants called melanoidins are formed during roasting process —except in the green coffee beans—. The more intense the roasting, the greater the health benefits.

Second step: Coffee grinding

The other aspect that determines the goodness of the coffee is its grinding.
Espresso machine grinding is different from moka for it has a higher fineness.

If Italian coffee is so good, is there a particular region for traditional coffee production?

It is hard to believe that even with the ancient production and the cultural acceptance of coffee in Italian regions, there are no quality signs such as the ‘Protected Designations of Origin’ or ‘Protected Geographical Indications’ for coffee. The reason for this is that Italy does not produce coffee beans and the raw material is very important on the assignation of a quality sign.

On a World level, there are two regions with traditional certifications: Cafe de Colombia IGP and Café de Valdesia DOP. The first one is from Colombia and the second from the Dominican Republic. These two are the only Protected Designation of Origin for coffee in the world.

But Italy has many old coffee brands that are part of today’s culture of Italian coffee.

The most important Italian coffee brands

The Italian coffee tradition characterizes by world-renowned brands, as well as artisanal coffee brands. Here are some examples:

Vergnano 1882

italian coffee caffè vergnano

This Piedmontese brand is the oldest coffee producer in Italy and one of the most ancients in the world.

Lavazza

italian coffee brand lavazza

In 1894, Luigi Lavazza opened a small grocery store near Turin, specializing in the product that fascinated him most: coffee. Lavazza was the first to create blends. As a single-product company, it set out to become a symbol of Italian coffee in the world.

Illy

italian coffee brand illy

Francesco Illy (of Hungarian origin) founded his coffee company in 1933 and today itamong the most famous brands in Italy and the world. From the very beginning, Illy has a reputation for his efforts to improve coffee production. Its pressurization system is famous for the optimal preservation of the aroma.

Borbone

italian coffee brand caffè borbone

Caffè Borbone stands out for the selection of raw materials and a wide variety of coffee.

Pellini

italian coffee brand pellini

Since 1922, the roasting company dedicates to the production of high-quality espresso coffee. Located in Bussolengo, near Verona, they have a special line of 100% organic Arabica coffee.

Other brands are Passalacqua from Naples founded in 1948; Splendid from Torino, Pellini and Agostani. And you, how do you like your Italian coffee?

So glad you made it this far!

Let me know if there is any other aspects about Italian coffee you would like to read about or if there is any other topic in particular that you would like me to include in future articles. It is always a pleasure for me to have your insights.

Jump ahead and leave me a comment!

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9 Comments

  1. Thomas

    Totally loved your article here on italian coffee. Gave me an entire new feel going into a Starbucks lol.

    I want to try the expresso macchiato except I’m going to swap out the milk with almond milk and see how that goes. Great article..Thanks!

  2. Hi Isabella,

    Wow, this is a really informative and detailed article about Italian coffee. I never knew all the nuances that are associated with this particular type of coffee. I admit, there are times I have a hard time keeping all the different types of coffee straight in my head. So, thank you for explaining the differences in this post.

    -Amanda

  3. Hi Isabella,

    Thanks for this informative article about Italian Coffee, which is fun to read and making me thirsty while I read it. I love the recommendation you made here to visit Starbucks Cordusio if people are in Milan, and it must be refreshing to see how Starbucks blends in the Italian coffee industry there.

    I also like the you listed out some of the most important Italian coffee brands in the last paragraph, and I will try to look them up next time when I do my grocery shopping.

    Thanks for sharing,
    Matt

  4. Even though I am not a coffee drinker I found this article extremely interesting, I really enjoyed how you explained all the different ways people can enjoy their coffee. I am sure many coffee drinkers will love to try Italain coffee, you provided a very good guide for all your readers.

    Jeff

  5. Hi Isabella,

    Great post! I really love a nice cup of Italian coffee.
    We have a Nespresso machine at home and I’m a big fan of cappuccino.
    In my student years I had a Bialetti macchinetta. Reading about this brought back a lot of awesome memories. I’m definitely gonna get me a new moka pot!
    Thanks a lot,
    Catherine.

  6. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article, so engaging and articulate. I am new to coffee and I already have a love and hate relationship with it. Thank you for this informative article.

  7. Sasha

    what an informative article! I have owned a moka pot and a nespresso machine – and i love both! thank u for your well-researched article 🙂

  8. I was intrigued to read this post as I absolutely love the coffee aroma. However I only have flat white or latte as the rest of the types are too strong for me, lol.
    I enjoyed learning about the moka bailetti. Is it similar to Turkish tea maker?

    Thank you

  9. I am a passionate coffee lover. For me your article is very exciting, great guide. Thanks for sharing!

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