Episode #095: Coffee Culture in Italy

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Listen to “Lifting the Lid on Italian Coffee Culture” on Spreaker.


This episode we are lifting the lid on a very important part of Italian culture – caffé or coffee. The love of coffee in Italy goes well beyond simply just drinking a cup. The hiss, clunk, and grind you hear when an Italian barista is making coffee with their beautiful, shiny espresso machine is a delight to any coffee drinker. You just know that there is a waft of aromatic Italian style coffee soon to follow. 

Show notes
We talk to Michael Horne, founder of San Francisco-based Dü Coffee and lover of all things Italian – especially coffee and wine. We discuss some of the rituals and customs surrounding drinking coffee in Italy, how to place your order in one of Italy’s many coffee bars, and hear about some great places to enjoy a truly unique Italian coffee experience. 

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About our guest – Michael Horne

Michael Horne is the founder of Dü Coffee based in San Francisco and is a huge fan of all things Italian, so much so that he’s traveled to Italy every year since 1995. His career has led him all over the planet, traveling over 2 million miles, and he is always on the hunt for a great cup of coffee everywhere he travels.

Michael loves Italian espresso and is now celebrating Italian coffee culture by bringing the tastes and flavors home with his new Milan espresso roast at Dü Coffee.

You can find Dü Coffee on these channels:

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. The first coffee houses started to appear in Venice in the early 1600s
  2. Records show that the local Church officials condemned coffee houses in those early days, as coffee was considered the bitter invention of Satan, until the pop of the time tasted it for himself, found he liked it and essentially blessed it for its use throughout Europe
  3. The local coffee bars in a town or a city are often a kind of focal point for Italians to congregate. They get together to chat and catch up on the latest gossip ( as well as arguing over the football)
  4. Espresso Macchiato is an espresso with a little bit of milk foam
  5. An espresso is a single shot of coffee – if you want a little more you can ask for espresso doppio – a double
  6. Many of the coffee bars, traditional coffee bars get their coffee from some larger roasters like Illy and Lavazza, but it can be an extra treat to find those that use a smaller, more artisanal roaster
  7. Often when you get an espresso, you will get a small glass of a fizzy, sparkling water – the idea being that you can use that to cleanse your palate before you drink your espresso, so you can enjoy it more clearly
  8. Italians don’t drink a tall-cup coffee but and you can still get that often – it is a Cafe Americana. It’s really just a shot of espresso (or ask for for a doppio), and they’ll either give you a bigger cup in a little tiny pitcher of really hot water, or they will simply give you a cup with the water in the espresso
  9. An espresso lungo (long) is also a good start for those not used to Italian coffee – this is an espresso shot but with more water,
  10. A Caffè Marocchino is made with a shot of espresso (sometimes a small shot, or ristretto), cocoa powder, and milk froth
  11. A Shakerato (meaning shaken) is made by shaking together a shot of espresso with ice cubes in a cocktail shaker, sometimes with syrup to sweeten it up, and is usually served in a martini glass
  12. You typically pay for your coffee in advance, so if you go into a coffee bar, go to the counter/cashier and say “Vorrei un caffe, per favore” – “I would like a coffee, please”. They will hand you a little receipt (scontrino) which you then take to the bar. The reason you pay in advance is that the barista does not want to handle money, making their hands dirty and they can concentrate on making your special drink. All they will do is look at your receipt, so if you put it on the bar and push it towards them and they’ll take a look at your order
  13. Most coffee is drunk at the bar, usually standing. If you have a slow coffee experience at a table in a piazza for instance where they will take your order at your table and bring it to you, you will pay a bit more because there’s service involved
  14. There’s probably no right way to take your coffee/espresso – it will often depend on what shop. For instance, it may be common to put sugar in your espresso to counter against the bitterness, however, if you have artisanally roasted beans, like at Ditta Artigianale in Florence, it won’t need the sugar. It’s not bitter as it’s been expertly roasted by the team run by Franco Sanapo – a true coffee roast connoisseur
  15. There are some truly beautiful and historical places to visit are Caffe Gilli, the oldest cafe in Florence and in Rome – Caffe Sant Eustachio where they use wood fire to roast their beans and have an amazing mosaic deer on their building and in Venice, Caffe Florian
  16. Even the coffee at an Auto Grill, which is a roadside chain across Italy, is great and as you drive in from another country, shows you’ve truly arrived in Italy!
  17. The Italians don’t really do cappuccino or drinks with milk in after around 10:30/11:00. A big part of it that is  because lunch is coming soon and it’s believed that milk will not help with the digestion of your lunch
  18. Espresso is often had after a large Italian lunch for digestion and to help you get on with the rest of your afternoon. In the evening, an Amaro is more commonly had, which is an alcoholic drink with herbs infused that’s quite a bitter taste – and varies between regions
  19. Another after-dinner tipple is caffè corretto (corrected coffee) – a shot of Espresso with a little bit of grappa (or maybe something else like whiskey or sambuca)


Coffee Bars





Places mentioned in the show

  • Cortona – town in the province of Arezzo, Tuscany
  • Vernazza – town on the Cinque Terre
  • Blue Marlin Bar – coffee bar in Vernazza
  • Lazzaretto – neighbourhood in Milan


  • cezve – a Turkish coffee pot. Made of copper and with a long handle
  • “come stai?” – “how are you?” in Italian
  • brioche cornetti –  an Italy pastry. A kind of cross between a croissant and a brioche bun
  • scontrino – the receipt you are given when you order your coffee

Resources from Untold Italy

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