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Coffee in Italy

With the invention of the high pressure machine, Italy introduced coffee with a new, unique flavour, which was to become a benchmark all over the world.

Unique coffee

Coffee bar, Rome, 1950
© Magnum Photos / Herbert List                                  

The reputation of Italian coffee is indisputable and coffee-speak has become somewhat Italian around the globe, as we drink cappucino, espresso and caffè macchiato. Yet, for several centuries, Italians drank coffee like the rest of Europe: initially boiled with the grounds, Turkish style, and then later filtered, as an infusion. It was only in the 19th century that they created a stir by inventing their famous espresso. It was customary to drink it standing up, leaning against the bar, concentrating on the flavour of the coffee; but this habit did not last.

An ingenious machine

The first coffee machine appeared in Turin towards the end of the 19th century. The design then underwent several improvements. The principle of high pressure percolation was developed in 1946. In this system, simmering water (but not boiling) passes rapidly through finely ground coffee placed in a metal filter, thus emulsifying the oils in the coffee. This produces a richly flavoured coffee, with no bitterness, covered in a velvety froth known as la crema, typical of espresso coffee.

The biggest coffee drinkers

While Italians are certainly great coffee lovers, they are not the biggest coffee drinkers in the world. This honour goes to the Finns, with more than twelve kilograms per person per year, which corresponds to four or five cups per person per day. The Swiss drink two or three cups a day. As for the Italians, they drink about four and a half kilograms per year, or just under two cups a day.