Blog: Italian Coffee Culture at war.
It always feels special to visit Italy. Be it Rome, Venice or Milan; somehow Italy always knows to captivate me with it’s rich history, beautiful people and the many sub-cultures it upholds.
Italian Coffee Culture as a pillar
Catenaccio (a soccer tactic), the iconic Italian kitchen, the catholic presence in daily life, and of course the coffee-culture are seen as the pillars of the representation of Italy itself. But danger lurks in the shadows for one of these pillars. A danger that is slowly spreading; infesting the big city’s and eventually the smaller towns of this bootshaped country. It’s target? Italian Coffee-Culture. The danger? International Coffee Culture.
It holds like a Roman phalanx
It is a fight that the coffee-culture-pillar of Italy will eventually lose, of that I am certain. But for now it holds, it holds like a battle hardened phalanx defending against a barbaric horde trying to push it’s way through the rows of shields and spears. The Italians still hold their ground as if it was to defend the honor of ‘la mama’, but the younger generation is slowly doubting the cause of this war. The horde might be barbaric, but somehow it looks tempting, innovating. Splinter groups of youngsters now refuse to form the phalanx. They don’t want to fight, they want to welcome the horde and see if they can learn from it’s new and strange ways. But they are only splinter cells for now.
The Italians still hold on to their coffee-culture fiercely. Ordering an espresso at the bar before drinking it at once and leaving. Paying at the tiller before getting your drink. No latte-based drinks after 11 in the morning unless your a child. Every ‘barista’ working in a coffeebar will make a perfect cup of coffee. If you want syrup in your coffee, you can buy it yourself in the supermarket. 4 euro’s for a mediocre cup of coffee? In Italy the prizes are written in stone and (at the bar) you never pay more that 1.50 euro.
The horde in Milan
In Milan the horde managed to set up some ‘colonies’ and two of them are: Taglio coffee and Pascucci. Two coffeeshops that defy the Italian coffee-culture by serving coffee prepared via various foreign coffee techniques: Hario V60, Chemex and slow drip for example. If you want a latte-based coffee after 11 in the morning, no one bats an eye. But these coffeeshops did have to make concessions. Both shops have restaurants accomodating their guests, as if relying solely on specialty coffee just wont be enough. It seems that Italian coffee-culture is so deeply embedded in the everyday life of Italians that they simply dont feel the need to sit down and drink a specialty coffee. I guess that is why Starbucks still has not managed to get a foothold in Italy. And so combining a restaurant with a specialty coffeeshop seems the only way to ensure survival for these two shops.
The war continues
When talking to the baristas at these hotspots, I do get the feeling that the younger generation is ready for change. They want to explore the world of coffee, try out different techniques and marvel at the many possibilities coffee can offer. But we all know how strong Italian culture can be, how resilient the descentdants of the roman empire are and so the battle rages on.
Wave after wave of the barbaric horde smashes down on the defence of the Roman phalanx. And the Roman phalanx keeps holding its ground…for now.