By Claudia Quesito
Coffee in Italy is much more than a drink: it’s a social ritual and a revered break from anything one could possibly be doing.
Everything, in fact, can certainly be put on hold per una pausa caffè. First of all, if you’re ordering your coffee at a bar, no need to clarify “espresso;” caffè is espresso by definition. Ordering and having an espresso at a bar might look not so enjoyable from a foreign point of view.
The counter is often crowded, you need to raise your arm, your voice, and stand on your tiptoes to have the barista hear you; and then, after all that effort, you gulp down your coffee in less than ten seconds. But Italians have mastered the art of ordering while among a lot of people, of enjoying that tiny quantity of liquid that goes under the affectionate name of cafferino or caffettino, and of savoring that break.
Coffee at home is a whole different thing. The traditional one is made with caffettiera, or moka, although more and more households have an espresso machine. The caffettiera has its specific ritual: First, you need to fill the bottom part with water—cold water, since cutting corners with hot water would spoil the result. Then you pour the coffee into the metal filter, firmly enough to have a strong drink—but not too much, or else you’ll find grounds at the bottom of your tazzina.
Next, you put the caffettiera on the stove and to wait for the exact right time to turn off the burner. Even a ten-second delay could burn your coffee. The whole procedure, in addition to promising good coffee, is also an excuse to chat or to have a longer break from work or study.
Another golden rule is to drink your coffee while is boiling hot. In some bars in Napoli—Italy’s undisputed best place for coffee—they warm the tazzina. And Napoli is also the birthplace of a virtuous tradition, il caffè sospeso, in which you pay for your coffee and also for an extra one, which remains available (sospeso means “on hold”) for someone who will come along and who maybe cannot afford to buy one.