The Italians usually drink coffee in the morning with breakfast. They often have an espresso coffee, which is a very concentrated amount of coffee, mixed with a small amount of water. However, there are a great number of variations to the traditional espresso, ranging from small additions of cream, milk, and occasionally a strong liqueur, known as cafe corretto: a translation of this comes out as proper, correct, laced or spiked, which seems rather ironic. The origin of this term correct only brings to mind the fact that maybe it was once considered that the authentic way to drink coffee was with some strong spirits. The idea of laced or spiked comes from the idea that lace was a type of material that was woven together to form a pattern, which was often worn over the face to hide a woman’s face if she did not wish curious eyes to fall on her (a little like dark sunglasses today) or if she was at a funeral to hide her tears. This concept of hiding something has been passed on to the insertion of liqueur into coffee so that it may be enjoyed without anyone knowing they are having a cheeky little morning tipple.
The idea of spiked is similar in the way that, like a trap built into a hole in the ground, it is hidden from the victim. If something is spiked, it is dangerous to you if you drink it, and may even kill you. I have never heard of anyone being killed by a cafe corretto, though I believe the idea comes from the fact that in early times people wishing to knock off their husband or wife spiked their food or drink with arsenic, a lethal poison.
Italians probably drink about two or three coffees a day, occasionally having a coffee after a late dinner including a generous amount of wine and liqueur, often to confuse the breath-test that they may have to take if stopped by the police. However, this is quite rare, with the majority of drinkers having their last coffee after lunchtime.
If the coffee is drunk in a bar it is normally taken standing up, thus part of the reason for the name: express coffee. The process of producing the coffee is very fast, compared to the slower filter coffee process. In busy cafés, you normally pay for your coffee first at the cash desk, then move along the counter to hand the receipt to the bar person who takes your order.
This is an art in itself if you ever have the chance to drink a coffee in an authentic Italian bar. Without being disrespectful to Italians, which I in no way intend, queues don’t exist in Italy, or at least they don’t respect them so much. Italians are cheeky sometimes, in the way they craftily saunter up to the bar and nudge past you a little, saying a polite “scusa” (excuse me) thus receiving their coffee before you, even if you had paid for yours before them.
Once you get used to it, it’s really rather funny and easily resolvable with a big smile and a simple explanation that they arrived after you, they normally become very apologetic and back off, though I have found that this is a great conversation starter as I only need to say one word for people to say to me, “English? Fantastic! I can practise while I drink my coffee. Where are you from?”
The Italians love to talk, which is a beautiful quality (see my post on Italians and mobile phones). I remember countless occasions where I had memorable conversations in that short space of time, first thing in the morning. Which brings to highlight the whole definition of this beautiful routine. Italians still love to take things slowly, especially their coffee. It’s the first thing they enjoy having in their daily routine, which sets them up for the whole day.
There are some new trends relating to coffee drinking which I feel have destroyed the traditional routine somewhat. This is the invention of the capsule-type of coffee machine. You have a capsule which you insert into a coffee machine which then makes coffee in a way not far off to that which you may hope to receive in a bar. Although many will argue this to be completely different.
The issue here is that you have an enormous selection of various flavours and strengths, making the selection near impossible and almost removing the pure taste of coffee itself.
So to sum up, I would say that to really experience coffee culture at its best, you must have coffee in the morning in a bar, the busier the better.
Thanks for reading.
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