A large portion of the students at Leicester — and any university — spend quality time frequenting the coffee houses on campus. In Leicester’s case that may mean the Library Café or Café Piazza, or perhaps Starbucks if they don’t like coffee.* For Erasmus students in Italy, coffee almost inevitably becomes an invariable factor in daily life for a number of reasons.
1) Coffee is better here.
2) Coffee is cheaper here.
3) Coffee is everywhere here.
The purpose of this post is to explain how the system works in Italy, for students considering a year abroad and worrying about whether they’ll be able to blend in, or for people who are just interested in how people drink coffee in the land that has most famously tamed that humble bean. There are plenty of hi-larious guides to Italian coffee culture out there on the internet, but you don’t need to read those anymore. It’s all here. I’m going to generalise a bit, but I think most of what I’ll say will be as hard to object to as saying that British people drink tea and are afraid of making a scene. That is, you could complain but you’d probably have to make some big concessions.
First and foremost: Italians almost exclusively drink shots of espresso. They call it caffè. To a lesser extent they also drink caffè macchiato, which is espresso with some steamed milk. The other coffee they drink is cappuccino, which is noticeably smaller than it is in the UK (like most Italian coffees). However, Italians never drink a coffee with milk in it after lunch time. This is instinctive.
What we call a café in Italy is called a bar. This is appropriate, because behind the counter there is usually a large choice of liqueurs for caffè corretto: coffee corrected by alcohol. I wouldn’t place this in the holy trinity mentioned above, but it is far from unheard of. Another drink I should mention is caffè shakerato, an iced coffee usually served in a martini glass. Often in a bar, the coffees on offer are not clearly written on a menu because the Italians don’t need to know. If there is a menu, it usually lists the charges for drinking at the bar compared to sitting down. Lots of bars have large menus of delicious-looking coffees with chocolate and syrups. They are delicious, but the Italians do not drink these.
I probably don’t need to mention that the more big English signs there are, the most likely it is that the café targets tourists and isn’t the cheapest place to go. In Turin, and everywhere else I’ve been, a caffè costs €1. A cappucino costs €1,20 to €1,40. Get much higher and get suspicious.
Therefore, my guide to looking as Italian as possible is to take a cappuccino and croissant (which may be referred to as a brioche or a cornetto, both of which are understandably unexpected names for UK students) standing at the bar for breakfast (with newspaper if you’re serious), and a caffè at the bar during the mid-afternoon. A caffè also traditionally follows a meal, but is never taken during a meal. Unless maybe if that meal is a croissant. With its low costs and high insight into Italian culture, joining the coffee masses isn’t too much of an investment for students on their year abroad. You can learn a lot in a bar. An Italian bar, that is.
* somebody stop me!