You could separate some Italian cities from the café culture with which they are often richly associated, but why? While we love our Starbucks and we couldn’t live without our Pocket Coffee, the strong and caffeinated truth is that Italy wouldn’t be Italy without its cafés, famous and otherwise. It’s part of the culture of taking time to slow down and smell the…well, the coffee. And drink it too, of course. Here are some cities which, thanks to some legendary cafes, can rightly be hailed as Italian café capitals:
1. Cafés in Rome
How would you like to sip your cappuccino in the same space where Lord Byron and Goethe did many moons ago? When you go for coffee at Antico Caffe Greco on the Via Condotti (no. 86) in Rome, you’ll be doing just that. This landmark café opened in 1760, and wears it age well: antique furnishings and portraits of the literary luminaries who frequented help make it the ultimate Roman café.
At Sant’Eustachio Il Caffe, located in front of the Senate building (Piazza Sant’Eustachio 82), the focus has always been on great espresso, and the coffee beans are wood fire-roasted. The café was founded in 1938 and still preserves a vintage feel. They also sell a range of gourmet coffee products, including coffee chocolates and a delectable coffee liqueur.
2. Famous Venice cafés
If the most charming thing about Venice in terms of libations is its many tiny corner bars, it is also home to two of the most famous cafés not just in Italy but in Europe. The first is the Caffe Florian, founded in 1720 smack in Piazza San Marco and considered to be the oldest café in Italy. That might be part of why it’s so expensive, but then the upkeep in this corner of real estate can’t come cheap. The frescoed interior rooms offer a welcome respite from the madding crowds of the piazza, while the tables outside under the colonnade (where orchestras often serenade) offer a window onto the pageant of the heart of Venice. Consider a coffee break (or light meal) at Florian to be a splurge and you’ll enjoy it more.
Venice is nothing if not competitive, and sure enough, Florian’s “rival” café, Quadri, is located right across Piazza San Marco. Giorgio Quadri is credited with bringing Turkish coffee to Italy for the first time, over a hundred years ago. There’s also a gourmet restaurant here, but you can’t go wrong by the coffee and classic location.
3. Trieste: Coffee Capital
The quirky northern Italian city of Trieste has a special coffee connection – In fact, it might be considered not just an Italian café capital, but a veritable coffee capital too. This is because of historical coincidence: in 1719 when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Trieste’s port was granted tax-free status and at the same time Europe was going nuts for coffee. To this day, Trieste is considered to be the leading Mediterranean port for coffee imports, and the locals reputedly drink twice as much coffee as other Italians.
You can join them in this joyously roasted ritual at any number of great cafes in the city. The most famous is Caffè degli Specchi – founded in 1839 and fronting the vast Piazza Unita d’Italia. If you want to follow in the footsteps of James Joyce and Italo Svevo (a famous Italian writer born in Trieste), head to the richly wood-paneled Caffè San Marco.
4. Padua and Turin cafés
It’s no wonder that most of Italy’s café capitals are in the north – nothing like delicious warm coffee to keep the cool autumn chill at bay. When visiting Padua, don’t miss the Caffè Pedrocchi – a name that’s been delightfully rolling off tongues since it opened in 1831. The stately building that houses the café was originally a buzz with stock traders and lawyers, and was completely renovated in 1998.
In Turin, you’re in for a treat at the Caffè al Bicerin, which dates back to 1763. The specialty here is the bicerin, an artful blend of coffee, cream, and chocolate. So good that, when staring down a frothy bicerin, we momentarily suspend our fixation with Pocket Coffee. Wouldn’t you?
Have a favorite Italian café? Don’t keep it a secret – let us know!