What We Talk About When We Talk About Coffee

Since I moved to Germany, I started drinking filtered coffee. That’s right, the one that comes in big mugs, the one you see in American films, the one that in Italy we’d call caffè Americano. Why? Well, first, because everybody drinks it here, and it is important to adapt to local habits. Second, because before saying it’s bad, one should try it – I actually liked it! And third, because everybody is sick of those Italians that go abroad and complain because coffee is not good enough for them. Foreigner friends, stand up for your right to drink any coffee you like! And you, dear Italian friends, drink your true Italian coffee, and leave foreigners alone. Stop telling them that they drink “dirty water”, stop torturing everybody with the “only Italian coffee is real coffee” thing. Don’t be dicks. And if you really want to drink nothing but true Italian coffee when you move (or travel) abroad, then bring a pack of coffee in your suitcase, bring your mum’s coffee machine and make that special golden foam following the recipe of this amazing Italian grandma (video).

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A “moka”, the traditional Italian coffee machine


But seriously: the only way to get a true espresso abroad is knowing how to ask for it. Coffee doesn’t mean the same thing everywhere: for Italians, caffè means espresso, a small, concentrated portion of freshly brewed coffee, while in Germany Kaffee means coffee in a big cup, and the same goes for English speaking countries. In France things are different: café comes in a small cup, but not quite like an Italian espresso: if you want espresso, you have to ask for expresso, or café serré. In Spain, too, café means a big cup, and espresso is expreso, of course. So, as you can see, coffee means different things for everyone, so make sure you know what to ask, in order not to be disappointed.

Anyway, Italians are not the only ones who miss their own coffee. Foreigners who come to Italy for the first time (and who don’t know how coffee works) usually are disappointed when they ask for a coffee and get a tiny espresso cup. You should see their faces. They seem to wonder “is this it?”.

Misunderstandings can occur in Italy, too: In Trieste (hometown of Illy, one of the best brands of Italian coffee), if you want a coffee you must not order a caffé or an espresso, but a nero, instead. And if you ask for a cappuccino, you’ll get something that in the rest of Italy is called caffè macchiato (an espresso with a drop of milk foam in it). If you want a real cappuccino, you must be more specific and ask for a cappuccino in tazza grande (cappuccino in a bigger cup), and so on.

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Illy coffee, one of the best espresso you can have


Life is hard for purist fans of Italian espresso, who should now realize, after reading all these fun facts, that it’s all relative, even the idea of what real coffee is.

Now excuse me but I have to go, my Italian coffee is nearly ready (and in case you’re wondering: yes, I’m using my mum’s coffee machine, I admit it).




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