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Caffè is the Italian word for coffee and may indicate either the Italian way of preparing this beverage at home or espresso, which is prepared instead with electrical steam machines.

Italians, and especially Neapolitans, pay special attention to the preparation, the selection of the blends and the use of accessories, all part of a special culture focused on the drink.

Caffè History


According to the legend, coffee was discovered in Ethiopia, where it grew wild. Some shepherds discovered that their flocks didn't sleep during the night after eating coffee.

Another legend gives us the name for coffee or "mocha". An Arabian was banished to the desert with his followers to die of starvation. In desperation, Omar had his friends boil and eat the fruit from an unknown plant. Not only did the broth save the exiles, but their survival was taken as a religious sign by the residents of the nearest town, Mocha. The plant and its beverage were named Mocha to honor this event.

In the 9th century in the Muslim world, coffee began use as a medicine, was liked for taste and became a pleasurable drink. During the 14th century some coffee trees were transplanted to Arabia. They named it Kaweh.

One early use for coffee would have little appeal today. The Galla tribe from Ethiopia used coffee, but not as a drink. They would wrap the beans in animal fat as their only source of nutrition while on raiding parties. The Turks were the first country to adopt it as a drink, often adding spices such as clove, cinnamon, cardamom and anise to the brew.

By 1500 it was already in Turkey and then in Italy. In 1720 Gabriel Mathieu de Chieu, a French Marine Official, brought to Martinica three coffee trees from Paris. Only one of these trees survived the trip. From this surviving tree, coffee growing started in the New World.

Coffee shops began to open in the late 1600's in country's capital cities then in the larger cities and from then on into the beginnings of domestic use.

Caffè Espresso

Normally, within the coffeeshop environment, the term caffè denotes straight espresso.

When one orders 'un caffè' it is normally enjoyed at the bar, either with friends or alone or chatting with the barman (Italian: barista). The espresso is always served with a saucer and demitasse spoon, and sometimes with a complimentary wrapped chocolate and a small glass of water. While Caffè Espresso is normally drunk quickly, often with the elbow of the arm holding the glass resting on the bar counter, it may also be enjoyed for the duration of the afternoon, which is often a community custom for retired seniors.

In some regions of Italy, the ultimate compliment to a barista is to turn the cup upside-down onto the cup, as to indicate you enjoyed the drink throughly, and there is no liquid left in the cup.


The necessary instrument, the caffettiera, is essentially a steam machine made of a bottom boiler, a central filter which contains the coffee grounds, and an upper cup. In the traditional Moka, water is put in the boiler and the resulting boiling water passes through the coffee grounds, then reaches the cup. The Neapolitan caffettiera has instead a different working function, and needs to be turned upside down when the drink is ready. Its boiler and cup are therefore interchangeable.

The quantity of coffee to be put in the filter determines the richness of the final beverage, but special care is needed in order not to block the water from crossing it, in case of an excess of grounds. Some hints prescribe that some small vertical holes are left in the powder by using a fork.

A small fire has to be used, in order to have the appropriate water pressure: a high pressure makes the water run too quickly, resulting in coffee with little flavour. The fire under the caffettiera has to be turned off ten seconds after the first characteristic noise is heard, and eventually lit again in case the cup was not filled.

Some claim that the more coffees the machine makes without being cleaned, the more tasty the final drink is. A good compromise between hygiene and taste, is having the caffettiera cleaned once every two days, before the coffee remains begin to turn bad.

Italians usually add some sugar.

The "caffetteria" is the public service in which caffè was traditionally made with Moka, and in the 19th century it was the specialized place for enjoying it, while the domestic habit started at the beginning of the 20th century, when caffettiere became available to the general public.

In elder caffetterie, art and culture events were held, being places in which the upper classes used to spend relevant parts of their days. So many of these places became important sites (like, for instance, the famous "Caffè Greco" in Via dei Condotti, Rome) and became famous for being the usual meeting points of artists, intellectuals, politicians, etc. It was mainly enjoyed by men, while women organised their tea meetings.

For an appropriate formal afternoon service, the caffè is always brought with a silver pot, porcelain cups (which should be the thinner and the less decorated as possible) are always on a small dish and have their small silver spoon on the right (on the dish). Sugar is brought apart, in porcelain pots, with a separate silver spoon. After the consumption, smokers are usually allowed to lit their cigarettes (the service typically includes a porcelain ashtray) if not in the presence of women (who usually invite them to do it, if they wish). Pastry is not properly indicated to accompany this ceremony, but an exception can be made in case there are women at the table. The coffee pot has to be left on the table, for a second cup. After-lunch coffee is enjoyed in separate smaller tables, not at the main one, and children are obviously not welcome to join the team.

Cappuccino is not related to the traditional domestic coffee, being made with an espresso machine. However, caffè latte (also known as a latte in the U.S. and Café au lait in France) is made with a simple mixture of hot coffee and hot milk, and served in cups that are larger than tea cups. Caffetterie usually serve caffellatte too.

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