Coffee to an Italian is what Tea is to a Brit. It is a way of life, an integral part of our culture. Italians even have rules as to when you can drink certain coffees (a cappuccino must be drunk in the morning, and the idea of having it after a meal on a full stomach is cringe-worthy), and coffee is drunk at the bar, a quick espresso shot and off they go. None of this sitting down at a table and chatting with friends malarky. It is a necessity, not something to be indulged in.
However, in recent times, the tides have changed for Italy’s coffee culture. No longer is it quite so taboo to request a coffee alternative, such as a Ginseng or Orzo coffee, or even a tea, but in my opinion, Italy will never lose its allegiance to coffee.
The most probable reason for this is that Italians have eventually realised the negative side-effects of drinking upwards of 5 coffees a day, which include amongst others difficulty sleeping and high blood pressure. Ginseng coffees are served in most bars of Rome, a healthier alternative to a caffè, with a mixture of coffee, ginseng, milk powder and sugar. Whilst it has all the advantages of coffee such as increased alertness, it also promotes digestion, and has a great taste. It is becoming increasingly more popular, particularly amongst the younger generation, who are all the more concerned about their health.
Whereas a few years ago Italians only drank tea when they are sick, at home, tea is now sold widely, but not in all bars. Interestingly, one is always given the option of having a hot tea, or rather a cold tea, but the number of those taking up the option still seems inevitably rare, and when people do, the waiter always looks them up and down, trying to work out whether they are sick or not. Most waiters subsequently stay a few feet away!
Rather, there are specific bars in the city, which are renowned for their tea and where choosing this beverage is more acceptable, such as “Miss Babington’s” near Piazza di Spagna, which also serves English muffins to accompany one’s tea.
Last week, I sat down to a drink with an Italian friend of mine. I had a Ginseng coffee, and she had a tea – to quote her “We’ve swapped nationalities – you’re Italian, and I’m English.” Is Italy really starting to change its ways? Maybe, but it will always remain a country of coffee lovers.