How Italians drink coffee

In Italy coffee is not a social drink—it is a drug. It is not drunk; it’s mainlined. No sooner does the tiny espresso cup and saucer touch the counter than whoosh, in goes a quarter-pound of sugar, and whoosh the thing is downed in one gulp, and the caffeine is racing through your veins and you’re ready to attack—literally—the world.

From Máté, Ferenc. The Hills of Tuscany: A New Life in an Old Land (Augustana Historical Society Publication) (p. 38). Albatross. Kindle Edition.

In Italy, the sound of coffee in a bar is clinking porcelain. It is cacophony, racket, loud voices arguing and laughing over the ssssshhhh of the espresso machine. These sounds, a prelude to the hit of that syrupy black nectar that is called caffè, remind me that everything is possible. I can fight the good fight.

I think the fundamental difference between the experiences of coffee in the United States and coffee in Italy comes down to the concept of “to go.”

In America, coffee is taken to go because there’s a lot of liquid to be consumed. It accompanies you as you go about your morning. There is comfort in the feel of large quantities of lava-hot liquid under your fingers, of knowing that this coffee will be with you for hours. Your big hot cup of American coffee or latte or macchiato or whatever else Starbucks has decided to name it, will be held close, cuddled and nursed. Your very own grown-up sippy cup, thanks to that marvelous plastic mouthpiece (a beccuccio, or little beak, they would call it in Italian), which enables you to sip without spilling or scalding your mouth. Sipped and dripped. American coffee is sippy and drippy. It is like the saline bags that are linked to an intravenous drip: the level of fluid in your bloodstream never drops below a certain level.

Italian espresso, on the other hand, is a hit. A fast, intense bang to your veins. It is a one-gulp switch of the wrist that wakes and revs you up in an instant. For this reason, Italian coffee to go makes no sense.  You can get your one-gulp hit somewhere other than the bar as long as it’s close by and the whole endeavor is performed quickly.

From Wilson, Katherine. The Mother-in-Law Cure (Originally published as Only in Naples): Learning to Live and Eat in an Italian Family (p. 136). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


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