Coffee in Italy

By Camilla Yuan, Temple Coffee Head Roaster

My friend’s coworker is Italian and he lives and works in Italy.  He drinks coffee every day, many times a day. On a work trip to America, he goes to Starbucks to get his coffee for the day.  He goes up to the counter and says to the clerk, “Can I have some coffee?” The clerk says, “Sure, one moment,” and hands him a cup of “coffee.”  He looks at the 16oz cup that’s handed to him and says to the clerk, “I’m sorry, that’s not my coffee.” The two of them proceed to exchange confused looks with one another and eventually work through the language barrier to realize that what he actually wanted was a shot of espresso– “caffè” in Italian.

While in Italy this past summer, I experienced this situation first-hand. If I wanted a simple cup of filter drip coffee, I would order an “Americano” to satisfy my craving.  If I wanted a shot of espresso, I would order a “caffè.”  Some might see this little anecdote of language mix-up trivial, but I thought it was rather interesting. I didn’t have a cup of actual drip coffee until my flight back from Milan to San Francisco at the airport.

From what I gathered during my three week trip to Italy, the coffee culture there is far different than ours here, more specifically in Sacramento.  In Italy, everywhere we went–restaurants, bars, corner shops–all businesses had a little espresso bar set up ready to serve anyone who wanted some ‘caffè.’ And when customers received their order, they stood at the bar, drank their ‘caffè,’ chit-chatted, and then headed back out–a quick little break in their day.

Since I’m accustomed to drinking medium to medium-dark roasted coffee, dark roasted coffee was something I had to adjust to in Italy. While visiting a coffee shop owned by Lavazza called Coffee Design, I was surprised to find a small 5-kilo roaster set up with one of their employees finishing up production for the day.  A small offering of retail coffee bags from Guatemala, Kenya, and Ethiopia was set up on the counter and their roast levels looked similar to what we’re accustomed to here. I chatted with the employee for a bit and he asked me what the market was like for lighter roasted coffee. It seems a majority of the people living in Italy very much enjoy their dark roast coffee and doesn’t regard the medium to medium-light roasted coffees too highly. He was curious to see if that was the case everywhere else. He said many of their customers who try their lighter “experimental roast” coffee describe it as sour, bitter, or not sweet. When I told him about the specialty coffee here, he was intrigued.  He seemed amazed to hear about how popular the lighter roasted coffee has become in America.

After coming back from Italy, I think I’ve found a new appreciation for dark roast coffee.  All of the coffee I had in Italy was dark roast and it was super rich, creamy, and chocolatey. It paired nicely in milk-based drinks such as cappuccinos, lattes, and mochas. Though I prefer medium roast coffee in my day-to-day life, I quite enjoyed the dark roasted coffees presented to me and I won’t be so quick to write it off back home in California.