Why is Italy so famous for its coffee?
Love Italian roast coffee? Then you certainly are not alone!
Why is Italy so famous for coffee?
Coffee does not grow in Italy so why are the two so integrally related?
Whenever any of us in the coffee industry have any contact with the general public, we often here sentences like “Ooh, I love Italian coffee’ or ‘Italian coffee is the best’.
In this blog post we will discuss the reasons why when you think coffee you cannot help thinking of Italy. It might surprise you; it may not be the reason that you think.
The Early History of Coffee
The world of coffee really began to thrive on this planet in the 1500s. The global coffee trade was exploding, and coffee beans were introduced to Europe through trading ports in Venice. Coffee houses were opening and becoming social spaces for intellectual conversations. By the time we are halfway through the 1700s Venice has accumulated over 200 coffee shops. The drink had its detractors, but it was too popular to remove. Even the Catholic Church labelling it ‘the Devil’s Drink’ was not enough to deter its draw.
This was only the start for Italian coffee, the 20th century was where the Italian coffee experience really began the rise to the forefront of culture.
Modern Espresso History
The Espresso Machines we have today in our homes and in the ‘all the bells and whistles’ machines in the high street coffee shops we frequent almost daily all evolved from Italian inventions. One of the main reasons we appreciate Italian coffee is because of the work of these tireless inventors, pushing the boundaries of what we new and expected from coffee.
Luigi Bezzerra, an inventor from Milan, created a small, single-cup version of a machine Angelo Moriondo once conjured up. It used steam and two bars of pressure to brew coffee in less than thirty seconds. While it was a brilliant invention, it still produced inconsistent results as it was still in its infancy. The invention was then perfected by adding a pressure release valve – this made the process safer and faster for baristas. In 1906, the product was introduced to the market with the name ‘espresso’. This invention started the ball rolling and more inventors threw their names into the ring producing their own unique versions.
The 1930s saw the likes of Francisco Illy and Achille Gaggia showing what good espresso could be. Instead of brewing coffee using steam, they chose to use pressurised water instead. The steam powered brews were great, but it gave coffee an almost unpalatable burnt taste. These new pressurised water brewing styles would prove to be a blueprint for the way coffee was produced going forward.
Those of us who enjoy modern-day coffee have these pioneers to thank. Without their work in Italy, we would have the same kind of enjoyment that we do today.
The Italian Cultural Explosion
The cultural explosion in 1950’s Italy left a lasting impression on the world. It is one of the most exciting ‘world conquering’ social phenomenon in history. The freedom that ‘low cost’ scooters afforded, the style Italian men and women portrayed, all captured the aspirational feelings of the world in a post war era. It seemed to shun the old ways of make do and austerity from the war and replace it with a fast, inexpensive, stylish and exciting life free from European authoritarian rule.
Italians were at last free and were going to make the most of it. The rest of the world saw this and wanted in on the action. This was embraced by the Italians as it meant that they could sell their stylish and mostly modest cost items to social copycats all over the world. The Italians had found ways to make stylish things from inexpensive materials in a post war era where the whole world wanted a release.
Films like the Roman Holiday with Audrey Hepburn and the emergence of a young Sophia Loren as a cultural film Icon only served to magnify the effect with young women wanting to be them and men wanting to be with them. Italian restaurants, fashionable shops, espresso bars and scooter shops spread like wildfire with everyone wanting the good looking, carefree, fashionable Italian lifestyle.
With Ice cream, Pasta, and a new Italian Style coffee the Italians would go on to dominate our high streets and holiday spots well into the future.
Starbucks Coffee - the Italian coffee catalyst
Following several visits to Milan, Italy Howard Schultz recent owner of the Starbucks coffee company experienced and fell in love with the Italian coffee culture. He knew in his bones that Americans would fall in love with it if only they could get the chance to experience the sophistication first-hand. Realising that large drink size Americans market would not fall for the small espresso drinks he focused on the ambiance and culture of espresso bars. He wanted to give every American town that Italian culture he had experience in Milan without having to travel at great expense to get there.
As these shops started to increase the popularity of Starbucks the espresso culture also started to explode. Shops everywhere, all over the world, were now competing with Starbucks and their local Italian immigrant café for the pounds, shillings and pence of the local customers. It was no longer acceptable to serve frothy instant coffee or serve the bottomless pour and serve filter coffee in the greasy spoons of the land. Espresso coffee was here to stay, and Italian coffee had cemented its place in the world’s café culture.
The Third wave – Faster Horses
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
― Henry Ford
With the expansion of Coffees second wave starting to become normalised a new breed of Italian inspired coffee shop started to become more widespread. The Third wave of coffee shops. These shops started to focus more on the quality of the coffee over the style. They took the fast single serve Italian style and made the quality of the product served better. Changing roasting styles to highlight the personality of the coffee, reducing the second wave drink sizes to make coffee cut through milk. They change the service model to accept a slower but better service.
These coffee shops were not fundamentally changing the way that coffee is served but they were adapting the style to a new generation of coffee drinkers who wanted more.
So, with this last iteration Italian coffee cements its hold on coffee culture as a whole, modernising itself in lockstep with the advance of cultural development and looks set to be dominant for a very long time.
To extend the metaphor to its limits…
“Until someone invents the car, and I don’t see this happening any time soon, we are just going to be riding faster, more beautiful horses.”
If you would like to experience the traditional Italian style of coffee, we have a dark roasted blend that will tick all the boxes for you our Italian High Roast.
We recommend using the classic 7g of coffee to produce 30ml of espresso with this blend as it will certainly get you going in the morning. Tread with care
Alternatively, you may find lighter espresso roast like our Daterra Sunrise more to your liking. With this single origin coffee, we have focused on bringing the personality of the coffee to the fore.
Follow Up Information
You can find a lot more information about this time from Professor Jonathan Morris and researcher Dr. Claudia Baldoli in their Paper “The Cappuccino Conquests. The Transnational History of Italian Coffee (2007)”
Café Culture Lecture
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The Howard Schultz Milan Stories
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