How do Italian and American coffee culture differ?

How do Italian and American coffee culture differ?

You can check the answer of the people under the question at Quora “american coffee vs italian coffee

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  1. In the USA, Big Coffee is a franchise operation. The prices are high and the product is absolutely standardized. These franchise operations sprang up over-night and, while using the language and machinery of Italy, used the high volume, low service, idiot-proof model that has been the go-to of the franchise movement worldwide. This is a Starbucks store anywhere in the world (This one is in Australia).

    How do Italian and American coffee culture differ?

    In Italy, coffee shops are neighborhood restaurants that have have been at the same location for generations. The coffee is not served in paper cups and the point is not to provide a product that people drink in their cars on the way to work. In the afternoons, that same coffee bar may be the place you go for a Campari and chips during the afternoon break. Picture is Bar Michelangelo in Pietrasanta, where I have bought hundreds of cups of coffee.

    How do Italian and American coffee culture differ?

    This question made me realize how much I miss Italy.

  2. Not all Americans are as food/coffee ignorant as has been suggested, implied, or assumed in this thread. Many of us know and understand most, though admittedly probably not all, of the finer points of Italian coffee culture, and genuinely appreciate the experience of consuming and enjoying coffee in Italy. And yet after a few days in Italy, we genuinely long for a big paper cup of filter coffee TO GO with a lid on it. We like the taste and mouthfeel of filter coffee — an “Americano” is not the same thing — and we cherish the experience of walking around with a hot beverage is in hand, as surely as one can enjoy standing at a coffee bar in Trieste and knocking back a shot of the best Illy has to offer.
    By the way, what do the Italian-coffee-is-the-only-real-coffee folks make of Philz? Philz is essentially Turkish/Eastern Mediterranean coffee — Phil and his brother are Christian Arabs from pre-1967 Palestine — modified, by way of a filter and paper cups, to fit American urban life. The coffee beans are of high quality and carefully roasted. (As an aside, Philz generally does not traffic in the ‘light roast’ coffee endemic to the American Third Wave that tastes like unsweetened cranberry tea with a hint of urine.) The feckless millennials who work at Philz are by no means baristas, but they are generally attentive to their craft. Beans are ground anew for each cup so there is little or no oxidation. A new filter is used each time and the person making the coffee swirls the grounds a few times with a spoon while the “bloom” develops then lets the nearly boiling water seep through and do the rest.
    For the record, I’m not even a big Philz fan. I think the best filter coffee around is to be found at Golden Bear Trading Co on the corner of 6th and Judah in San Francisco, founded and owned (and to this day lovingly prepared by) by Phil’s brother. I’m just observing that American coffee culture (and, for that matter, American culture) is neither as monolithic nor as provincial as one might think.

  3. Edited: humbled by your kind praise for my simple answer, edited and added the part on “caffè pagato” down below 🙂
    Being Italian and having worked in many bars, yet having basically never drunk coffee in my life (I was only offered one as a kid and I hated it), I think I can give a rather unbiased opinion on that (ie: I’m far from being a coffee addict or even remotely a fan, but I should know the business a tad better than your average Joe).
    Assuming you are not Italian yourself (otherwise I doubt you would ever ask it), I will explain the difference just telling you how the cult of the good coffee is felt and perceived in Italy, as I am pretty confident this will suffice to let you understand how this differs from the coffee culture in America or other places.
    First of all, most Italians think their is the only coffee culture around the world; and the rest tend to think that it is the only orthodox one. You can think about it as a matter of national pride, a particularly noteworthy fact considering that Italians tend to have little or no common identity or prosocial attitudes and, still imho, a very distorted idea of patriotism.
    When they consider other coffee culture, think for example that american-style coffee in Italy is jokingly considered the water you use to clean your coffee machine, as the americano comes as insanely watered down for an Italian’s taste, basically as even the Oatmeal views it: 15 Things Worth Knowing About Coffee – The Oatmeal .
    Though most coffee drinkers would prefer it at a bar, it is not that rare to find Italians drinking it from a selling machine (usually one does that because he/she has too, like when you are stranded in some building far from a bar), or, better yet, doing it on their own at home, possibly using these very folkloric devices:

    How do Italian and American coffee culture differ?

    Note: this one is done or cobranded by Bialetti a notorious coffee-maker brand
    In case you wondered how it works, here is a nice gif form the Moka pot Wiki page:

    How do Italian and American coffee culture differ?

    But now I digress; coming back on topic, you must consider that italians are so fond of coffee that there are also tasters who basically act as coffee-sommeliers
    , giving comparable opinions on every single component of the final taste, particularly sensitive to even tiny specks of burnt components that you can get from using not AAA-level mixes, not cleaning perfectly your coffee machine and so on.
    Forget about Starbucks telling they stayed out of the italian market out of respect: they knew they would have failed here. Big time.
    The assembly-linesque feeling of Starbucks would not fit here: most bars are independently owned and each one has its unique atmosphere, one or more bartenders personally knowing their customers (and not few customers would feel like they were adulterous if they went to another bar while in the same town) and the process to brew coffee is usually much more curated .
    You select the blend to give to your customers and you usually even put it outside, in your shop’s sign (this is also because many producer will give you discount, hardware or other merchandise for that), you always keep the water in your machine(s) at the right high temperature and, if you really are a pro worth of this name, you only grind the required amount of coffee a little time in advance and in doing so you also consider the final size of grinded coffee beans in the light of that day’s moisture; if you produce too much grinded coffee for some reason, you should throw it away instead of keeping it for the customers that are coming the following day .
    Seems overdone or even paranoid? Well, that’s how strong is perceived the need to offer the best possible product to the customers.
    Oh and it does not end here: the most classy or professional bars (or restaurants or hotels, but that’s much rarer) will serve your coffee with a glass of water : this is done so that you can clean your mouth from other flavors and then taste your well-deserved coffees with no external interferences . Notice that they could ask you to pay more if you are going to stay at some table (it won’t happen anywhere, but it is rather frequent) instead of consuming it on the spot, but the extra glass of water is usually offered for free , as a fundamental part of the final service.
    Of course the coffee is usually only served in china cups , as they tend to keep the right amount of warmth and they are told, after months if not years of honoured services, to keep a kind of special aroma that enriches the final product like resting in a barrel of particular woods would enrich some wine (not that I believe this part much, but just to let you have an idea of the care in the whole process).
    There is also an alternative way (I think most popular among younger people) which, as Stefano Petri pointed out in the comments below, consists in having (I quote him in the italic here) your coffee served in a glass (basically a shot glass) instead of china cup. It’s called ” al vetro “, where “vetro” is the word for the glass as material, not as a container.
    Coffee is usually consumed after a major meal or, if we are talking about breakfast, usually is part of it and accompanied by some pastry, mostly coming from French (like croissants, for example) or Italian tradition.
    There is a peculiar and I presume just Italian tradition about coffee, namely ” caffè pagato “, that is to say ” paid coffee ” [apparently much more famous as caffè sospeso , that is to say “pending coffee”, thanks to Lorenzo Peroni for the tip!]: when you go to a bar, you can pay for your own coffee and then leave more cash to pay someone else’s. The interesting part is that you are not even required to know who you are offering to: the bar staff can keep a register of how many paid coffees they have and once someone enters and demands for a paid coffee, if there is anyone available, they get their dose of caffeine for free.
    Think of it as the Italian take on the gift economy, sorta of a Potlatch for coffee lovers 😉
    Finally, there are different sayings on how you should taste your coffee if you are really a connoisseur; one of the most popular curiously enough seems to come from a famous Russian ( Mikhail Bakunin source: Caffè – Wikiquote ) and states that you have to get it ” nero come la notte, dolce come l’amore e caldo come l’inferno “, that is to say ” as black as the night, as sweet as love and as hot as hell “.
    Hope this reply gave you an overall idea about how brewing and consuming coffee is felt in Italy, but feel free to ask for more or to correct me wherever you see fit 🙂

  4. In Italy, you’re not supposed to drink a capuccino anytime but in the morning. In the U.S. we don’t care. It’s delicious all day long! Ordering a milk-infused coffee at night is an Americanata, something only an American would do. But since I’m from Seattle and we are addicted to lattes … I can’t help myself. Also Italians don’t pour flavored syrups into their coffee drinks. They often drink espresso standing up at a counter. You get charged more if you sit down. Finally, you don’t order coffee to go. You drink it where you buy it, in nice china cups, not paper cups with plastic tops. And nobody uses straws!

    How do Italian and American coffee culture differ?

  5. Even if most people like to drink cappucino (or milk alone) in the morning, many others drink it anytime.
    Usually people drink during the day a small version of cappuccino (the name can be marocchino or espressino depending which part of italy) and we drink it anytime.
    the big difference about coffee is we drink many small coffees during the day (some people up to 8/10) and since it’s small it’s kinda weird to drink it with a straw or to take it away.
    Even if sometimes we do take it away and in that case the ‘barista’ will serve it in a small plastic cup and give you sugar and plastic spoon).
    we dont put syrup but sometimes we add liquor (like sambuca, anice or other kind).
    some people like to drink coffee with a small lemon skin in it.
    most of the times i drink cooffee at the table because it’s an excuse to have a conversation with friends, but other times i drink it in the morning to wake me up just like a medicine.
    an Italian.

  6. I don’t know the reason why – but in many of the bars in Italy, water was served in a small glass tumbler along with my cup of cappuccino or cafe latte. I have never seen this in the US.

  7. In Italy:
    1. Do not order yourself a cappuccino, caffé latte, or any other milky variations of coffee after the morning has passed.
    2. An espresso is the default cup of coffee you will get when you order yourself a serving in coffee places throughout the country. locals place orders for their coffee with the term ‘ un caffè ’, which refers to a single espresso.
    3. A single espresso may not look like much, but do not belittle this tiny cup of caffeine, for an Italian espresso is known to pack a powerful punch.
    If you think you are in need of a huge jolt of energy, you may choose to order a double espresso ( un caffè doppio ). However, do note that this is uncommon among the locals. The Italians do drink ample amounts of coffee, but they usually consume them in small doses throughout the day.
    4. Like your coffee strong, but want to have something other than an espresso? Order yourself a cup of caffè lungo , which is an espresso with hot water added to it. This beverage is less diluted compared to the caffè americano.
    5. If you really cannot imagine having coffee without a single drop of milk, a cup of caffè macchiato will float your boat. This coffee, unlike the type of macchiato that is served in places outside of Italy, refers to an espresso containing a tiny froth of milk.

  8. It’s very much a matter of personal taste; some people like their coffee straight up, some like it dressed to the nines and ready for dessert. Some like it in a greasy spoon, some prefer it in a cafe. Starbucks is extremely divisive; some love it, some hate it because it seems burnt to them, some hate it because it’s corporate. The only thing I can think of is that’s really at odds with Italian coffee culture is that in some parts of the US (definitely the northeast, don’t know about anywhere else), iced coffee drinks are a year-round thing, to the point where a coffee shop chain in southeastern Massachusetts has built its entire brand on iced coffee and very tight t-shirts. (Not quite bikini baristas, but headed in that direction.) I get the sense that iced coffee is not exactly popular in Italy, although it’s not far removed from, say, the Greek frappé. Vietnamese-style iced coffee (with condensed milk rather than cream and sugar) is popular in some places, though it’s hardly common overall. And for a lot of people, “coffee” is just a spoonful of instant coffee in hot water, and there’s little or no culture to be had.
    Overall, like pretty much anything in the States (and Canada, as far as that goes) is that you can find pretty much anything you want if you look hard enough, and it’s easier in big cities than it is out in the sticks. If you want the full Italian experience, you can get it. If you prefer the American way of doing espresso, there’s plenty of Starbucks as well as smaller places inspired by it, and even some McDonald’s serve espresso drinks. And if you have no patience for that and just prefer a big ol’ cup of rocket fuel, you can get that pretty much anywhere (especially Dunkin Donuts in the US and Tim Horton’s in Canada, but also pretty much any diner or family restaurant anywhere in North America).


  9. In addition to the other good answers here, Drip Coffee .
    America is big on drip coffee. Italy (and most of the rest of the world) are big on espresso (pressed out under pressure) coffee.
    You can certainly get espresso drinks in America (relatively common), and you can find drip coffee in Europe (less common), but as a whole America drinks a lot more drip coffee.

  10. In Italy the person attached to the espresso machine is a genuine barista, a performance artist who enjoys his craft, who understands all facts of his art, who is a lifer and really knows what he is about.
    In America they are mostly minimum wage employees who are reluctant to identify with the job.
    I have seen $5000 copper espresso machines sitting idle in resort Hotels in America because nobody knew how to operate them.
    In Italy, Argentina, and Chile there is one kind of place where businessmen in suits stand up at a counter to have their morning jolt, and another atmosphere where one is socializing at noon in an outdoor cafe.
    In Italy the place you have your espresso is not a destination resort, like Starbucks, where you bring a laptop and stay all day.

  11. Big difference; coffee in Italy is a religion. Indeed it is a scrament of communication and friendship of a quick and important break to restore a sense of well being and strength

  12. My Italian family, here and in Sicily, drank espresso all day and after dinner, and sometimes before bed. While they would never have added a syrup to the coffee, they would often add a small shot of anisette after a big dinner party.
    Also, Italian coffee importers (as well as Dutch and German) buy A grade coffee …

  13. I grew up in Italy and make frequent trips back there to visit family. I think everyone else has talked about the quality of the coffee, acceptable hours of the day to drink coffee, etc.
    Here is something I didn’t see mentioned in the other answers; you will NEVER see laptops at “coffeeshops” (we call them “bars”) in Italy. People don’t work in coffeeshops like we do in the US, and the most you will see is someone reading a book or newspaper (and it’s usually older people).
    Also, the sizes are a wolrd apart. A standard cappuccino in italy is much smaller (around 5 oz.).
    Also, it’s normal for places that serve coffee to also serve alcohol (this is probably because few people drink coffee after breakfast). Actually, they do aperitifs where you order a (usually light) drink (spritz are popular) and they automatically bring small finger foods to eat along with the drink.
    They also have a new, popular drink that I have never seen in the US. I had never seen it before in Italy either until this year but it’s called “caffe al ginseng”…I guess they put ginseng syrup in the espresso or something? Anyhow, it’s delicious, and almost has a caramel flavor.
    Lastly, there are no “lattes” in Italy. If you order one, they will bring you a glass of milk because that is what “latte” means in Italian.

  14. From what i saw on my travels in southern Italy, during lunch time or on breaks Italians drank shots of espresso standing at the “bar”. There was always a high turnover of customer as well, but surprisingly it still looked like no one was rushed.


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  16. One major difference is that coffee in Italy is consumed in independent establishments called “il bar”. These tend to be meeting points for local communities, not unlike pubs in England (although in the latter alcoholic consumption prevails). The style and atmosphere of any bar will depend on its neighborhood. Bars do not belong to any retail chains although many now source their coffee from branded suppliers such as Illy. Incidentally I think Starbucks are yet to open in Italy (a sensible decision).


  17. In Italy coffee drinking is an important social activity, and is often enjoyed leisurely in the company of others, often in an outdoor setting. The first function that a host does after welcoming a guest to his home is to make the obligatory pot or cup of coffee. American style “coffee-on-the-run” is unheard of. My only criticism is that the Mocha style espresso served worldwide is in a pitiful thimble sized portion that quickly gets cold, and sometimes has a burnt taste. I maintain that the old-fashioned Neapolitan macchinetta or French caffé filtre delivers a finer, aromatic cup of coffee, with the bonus of refills.
    Americans both know how to make and how to appreciate a fine cup of coffee. However celebrity culture and elitism has trivialized the once simple savory cup of coffee into a garish assortment of ice-cream flavored mucks, as promoted by the likes of Starbucks.

  18. All great answers so far. The only one thing I would add is an observation.
    It somehow feels like American commercial coffee culture is slowly turning coffee into what are essentially hot milkshakes.
    Even the milkiest of Italian coffees, the caffè latte, is still very much a hot coffee beverage, and a great deal shorter than what Americans would generally be accustomed to.
    It never has additional flavourings, people can choose to sweeten it with sugar or alternative sweeteners, but the taste of the beverage comes entirely and solely from the dose of strong espresso at its core, tempered by heated and frothed milk.
    Italians today may also order a caffè latte with an alternative non-dairy milk option (soy milk, almond milk, rice milk and the like) if that is their preference. But aside from that, the overall size does not change and the basic flavour combination of strong coffee and milk is always the aim.
    In the US, it feels like the overwhelming cultural presence and popularity of the milkshake has lead to a kind of fusion product – or something of a milkshake for adults. It serves essentially as a delivery medium for caffeine, but depending on what’s added, the flavour doesn’t even really have to resemble coffee at all these days. Indeed if you ordered the very largest size of a “caffè latte” from an American chain with only one shot of coffee and with extra caramel syrup, you are essentially drinking a big hot caramel milkshake with caffeine in it.
    There is also another major influence which has contributed to the size of the beverage getting larger and larger. The huge dependance on cars in most major metropolitan centres of the US makes the morning commute a very different experience than in many places in Europe, Italy included.
    The short detour that an Italian will easily make, quickly throwing back a short coffee at a bar on the way to work after stepping off a tram or the subway is not something that people in most major cities in the US could do, with some exceptions. On the whole they are spending long stretches of time in their cars, which for many people means business hours have more or less already started, since they can already be on their hands free phone.
    So it’s clearly so much more pleasant (and practical) to pass this time with a big, warm caffeinated beverage that you can nurse for a long time (hence cupholders in cars). Combine this with the overall tendency for food products in the US to be much more on the sweeter side, it’s no surprise that a hybrid coffee/milkshake concoction has become the popular choice.

    Victor Allen’s

  19. For me the main difference is that any coffe is perfect in Italy and none of the coffees are drinkable in the US… Or maybe you can find some Italian coffe is n the US if you are lucky.

  20. Let me let you in on a little secret: in the eyes of most Europeans, the average american is very unsophisticated when it comes to food. While that is certainly not the case all of the times, after having lived in the US for 12 years I can hardly disagree that in general that is true. Again, that is in the eyes of a European, which might mean nothing to an American.
    Part of it can be explained by the fact that American tend to take food from other countries and “americanize” it to fit the general taste buds requirements of Americans. That’s great and perfectly fine. In the eyes of European though, you’re taking the foods they have invented and murdering them.
    From that perspective American have taken the original coffee culture and re-invented to fit some basic american requirements:
    -in Italy you drink coffee once a day after lunch. Americans drink cafe at all times.
    -in Italy you drink a shot of coffee. Americans go around with gallon size jugs.
    -in Italy you drink cappuccino for breakfast, and espresso after lunch. That’s it. In the US you get all these things that are coffee flavored but are essentially sugar in a coffee disguise.
    -Quantity trumps quality. Most folks in the US would rather have a big cup of low quality coffee than a shot of great espresso.

    Eight O’Clock

  21. In Italy you are supposed to drink your espresso in about a minute. Bottoms up.
    In America people think they’re drinking coffee, but many are using coffee as a flavor for sugar and dairy concoctions. Otherwise, Starbucks wouldn’t exist.

  22. I don’t think the Italians (or the French, for that matter) serve espresso with a lemon twist. If it’s accompanied by anything, it’s a small chocolate.

  23. Drip coffee is an important part of the coffee landscape in America. I’m given to understand that this is not the case in Italy or much of the rest of Europe.

  24. America

    How do Italian and American coffee culture differ?


    How do Italian and American coffee culture differ?

    Italian style coffee is:
    To be consumed on the spot. Taking it away defeats the whole purpose of the coffee pause, that is why you take the coffee.
    Small. Small cups, that is the way to reduce waste. Just as much water as needed. Bars will give you a glass of water or milk if you want.
    Cheap.Coffee costing more than 1€ would cause a massive outrage. But not too cheap to be like sawdust. Italians will go great lengths to find the best tasting and cheapest coffee.
    Unflavored. Coffee is already coffee flavored, that if you take coffee, is because you like coffee flavor. Else you take a tea or whatever.

  25. Caffè American o vs. espresso
    soy milk, not too hot vs. cappuccino with latte art
    caramel on top vs. cantucci
    poorly paid apprentice vs. poorly paid barista
    Don’t try to compare a shot of espresso in a nice coffee bar at duomo in Milano with a tall latte in a Starbucks downtown New York.


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