Caffe La Barista
Prende un Caffe?

caffe To take the pulse of a culture, wake in early morning, gaze at the sky's light and color, smell the air, and listen....In Italy by 7 a.m., the chink of porcelain coffee cups becomes the awakening heartbeat, interrupted by the blast of steam sizzling into frothy milk. The air is perfumed with freshly-brewed espresso. Just follow your nose to begin the daily ritual of "prende un caffe".

Most Italians are young when introduced to coffee, usually served as Caffe Latte. As children, they accompany their parents and grandparents to the caffe bar for a treat of gelato or pasticcino. On Sunday, it is tradition that the father of the family, with children in tow, goes to the caffe bar to purchase un mezzo chilo o chilo of fresh pastries for the family's Sunday dinner while the women are busily preparing the meal back home.

As adults, Italians typically stand at the bar consuming their coffee as breakfast or a quick break during the work day. (Taking the proverbial coffee
break is such a part of daily life in Italy, that if you can't find your friend at work, or there is absolutely no one to assist you in a store, just search at the local coffee bar nearby. They are sure to be there, so you might as well have a coffee too while you wait! A few years ago, the Civil Service Minister stated that any employee absent too often from his desk during working hours would suffer a "dock" in pay. No doubt, deliveries of fresh espresso are
on the increase!)

For many Italians, breakfast is taken at the same coffee bar daily. Customer and barista, the barman, become acquainted over brief conversations occurring either before or after the caffe is served, not during the actual drinking of the coffee as it might spoil the enjoyment. One doesn't leisurely sip a caffe, but instead bolts it down in 1-3 gulps, thereby experiencing the intense aroma, flavor and heat from the espresso. This sensation lasts for another 30 minutes or so, stretching the deliciously stimulating experience. A caffe is never allowed to cool and become non-descript by taking time to eat or converse. And a true professional barista quickly learns his customers' preferences as to how and when caffe is served. The usual breakfast is only espresso, cappuccino or a derivative of one of the two. While a beverage, cappuccino is also considered to be food because of its milk content.

coffee beans Remember that pre-and-post war Europe was so impoverished that milk became a valuable nutrient source. If you catch an older Italian looking askance at you as you down a cappuccino and breakfast pastry, it might be because cappuccino is usually consumed alone without pastry. (And it is never consumed after 11 a.m.!) Espresso continues to be drunk throughout the day, most popular times are 7-10 a.m., 2-4 p.m., and after dinner when it is served as a separate course.

How to make a perfect cup of espresso and cappuccino

The following guidelines are for using an espresso machine with two separate water chambers and temperature controls, one for making the coffee and one for steaming milk.

COFFEE BEANS: Most coffee is composed of 100% Arabica beans or a combination of Arabica and Robusta. Grown in higher altitudes, the longer, flatter Arabica bean makes a lighter, delicate, more acidic coffee with less caffeine content (1-1.7%) compared to the Robusta bean. The rounder Robusta bean gives sweetness, body and roundness of taste to the coffee and contains about double the amount of caffeine (2-4.5%) of the Arabica bean. The blend of beans greatly affects coffee's flavor and you may prefer one blend for espresso and another blend for cappuccino since milk is sweet and alters the acid content of the beverage. For optimum flavor, purchase roasted beans regularly. If storing for a period of time, store in a cool, dark place.

ESPRESSO: Grind and quantity for one espresso: Usually 6.5-7 grams of ground coffee is used. Since Arabica is a harder bean, a finer grind is necessary for 100% Arabica versus a blended coffee. More coffee is used in 100% Arabica because it is a finer grind and more delicate in flavor.

Type of water: Use the best and purest possible. Remember, espresso is only 2 components, coffee and water. If you won't drink your tap water, don't use it to make coffee. Use bottled mineral water instead.

Water Temperature in Machine: Espresso is usually served at 167-176º F, therefore the water must be around 205º F for best brewing results.

Before brewing, tamp the coffee grinds until firm to the touch for best infusion. From the time you start brewing, count 5 seconds for the infusion before you see any coffee pouring into the cup. From this point it should take 20-25 seconds to yield 1 1/2-ounces of espresso. If it is faster than this, grind the beans finer next time, if it slower, grind the beans coarser.

Heated porcelain cup: Always place the cup on top of the espresso machine to warm (105-115º F) so its thick walls will maintain the heat, aroma and taste of fresh coffee. Usually use a 3-ounce cup for espresso and an 8-ounce cup for cappuccino.

CAPPUCCINO: Make the espresso in the cup, steam the milk and pour into the espresso. Proportions are usually 1 part espresso, 1 part steamed milk and 1 part milk "crema" or foam on top. *For a good frothy milk crema with tiny bubbles, use fresh milk (open the milk container just before steaming) rather than milk that has been opened and left in your refrigerator for a few days.

Coffee Terminology & Lingo in Italy

ESPRESSO: The standard. "Prende un caffe" means do you want espresso? Small amount of dark, rich coffee served in a 3-ounce porcelain cup. (Lemon peel is not served in the coffee.) A small glass of mineral water is served alongside the espresso, with a bowl of granulated sugar on the bar used to sweeten the espresso to individual taste.

DOPPIO ESPRESSO: Double espresso.

CAFFE RISTRETTO: Concentrated espresso made with less water.

CAFFE AMERICANO O LUNGO: "Long" espresso made with more water or with a pitcher of hot water served alongside the espresso. Served in a large porcelain cup.

CAFFE MACCHIATO: Espresso with a "stain" of steamed milk and "crema" or foam on top.

CAFFE CREMA: Espresso with a "stain" of "crema" on top.

CAFFE CON PANNA OR MONTATA: Espresso with whipped cream on top.

CAFFE CORRETTO: Espresso corrected with grappa, cognac, sambuca or other liqueur or distillate.


CAPPUCCINO: Espresso served with steamed milk and milk foam, often equal parts of each.

CAPPUCCINO CHIARO: Light cappuccino with less espresso and more steamed milk.

CAPPUCCINO SCURO: Dark cappuccino with more espresso and less steamed milk.

CAFFE LATTE: Espresso blended with 3-5 parts steamed milk, served without milk foam, served in a large porcelain cup or tall glass.

When you're in Italy standing at the bar and ordering your coffee, you will hear slang used by the locals for ordering their coffee. In doing so, it implies the customer frequents that particular caffé and knows the barista well - an acknowledged intimacy between these two people. If an "outsider" tries it without having frequented that bar, often the barista responds using the proper term not slang. One earns the right to speak in lingo!

A skilled professional barista only needs to hear one word, and immediately he understands the request. If he is really good, all he needs is to see the patron walk in!

CAPPUCCIO or CAPO: Cappuccino.

DECA: Decaffinated coffee is used for the preparation.

ESPRESSINO: Powdered cocoa is sprinkled into the bottom of the coffee cup, then espresso flows directly into the cup and is mixed with steamed milk, then topped with crema. Many variations. Typical blended coffee of Puglia, ideal for late morning.

GOCCIA: Means "a drop", or to add a small amount of steamed milk, crema or a liqueur to the coffee.

LUNGO: Means "long" or make it long, be generous in the amount. This is usually applied to adding more water to
the coffee.

MAROCCHINO: Espresso is mixed with steamed milk, topped with crema then sprinkled with powdered cocoa, sometimes with a pinch of ground cinnamon on top. Often served in a glass cup, this is a typical blended coffee of Piedmont, with many variations. In some northern Italian regions, dense hot cocoa is added to the coffee.

NERO: Means "black" or espresso.

RISTRETTO: Means "condensed" or concentrate the espresso by adding less water.

Here is a brief list of Italy's famous historic caffes, along with a few modern coffee bars. The next time you're in Italy, "Prende un Caffe" qua:

Pasticceria Gelateria Stoppani, via Roberto da Bari, 79

Caffe 14 Luglio, via Orefici, 6
Canton dei Fiore, via Indipendenza, 1/C
Terzi, via Oberdan, 10
Zanarini, Logge del Pavaglione

Caffé Rivoire, Piazza della Signoria
Gilli, Piazza della Repubblica

Antico Caffe Greco, via Condotti, 86
Tazza d'Oro, near the Pantheon on via degli Orfani, 84

Nannini, Banchi di Sopra

TRIESTE (Major port for import/export of coffee beans and major coffee center)
Caffe Ristorante agli Specchi - Piazza dell'Unita d'Italia, 7
Caffe-Pasticceria Pirona - Largo Barriera Vecchia, 12
Caffe Tommaseo - Piazza Tommaseo

TORINO (Major coffee center)
Caffé Baratti & Milano, Piazza Castello
Caffé Platti, Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 72
Caffé San Carlo, Piazza San Carlo

Gran Caffé Gambrinus, via Chiaia, 1-2

Café Florian, Piazza San Marco

Excerpted from "Prende un Caffe?" by Mary Beth Clark, published in the Journal of Italian Food & Wine