Why does Italian coffee taste different? I’ve got some answers for you. When it comes to food related to anything Italian, there are always two polarizing questions, either “Why is Italian food so good?” or “Why is Italian food so boring?” For the sake of simplicity, we’ll call it “different.” So why, then, does Italian coffee taste “different”?
Many factors affect the different tastes Italian coffee has especially compared to the rest of the world. Italian cuisine (not only food) in general is renowned for its lack of foreign influence. Moreover, Italy as a country is a great place to grow a variety of ingredients.
In this article, let us discuss why Italy’s coffee is so startlingly different and why it’s not to be experienced anywhere else in the world except for Italy.
Why Does Italian Coffee Taste Different?
Italy is one of the world’s food capitals, a source of cultural cuisine modernized and replicated worldwide. Imagine your favorite spaghetti, carbonara, lasagna, pizza, and who could forget their coffee? Macchiato, espresso, latte, cappuccino – oh, what would the world ever do without them?
That is why in this article, we have investigated and gathered empirical data from food critics and Italian residents who have gone or lived in Italy to taste authentic Italian food.
Like Mike Winters, a former caffè owner, some coffee experts have glorified the taste of Italian coffee, claiming that it is unreplicable anywhere else in the world. On the other hand, travel and food blogger Sara Porro has expressed resentment to Italian coffee, claiming it as “bland.”
This stark difference in reaction to Italian coffee has sent us into an investigation spree on why Italian coffee tastes so different. Below, we have compiled our research and found various reasons why Italian coffee is so different from anywhere else in the world.
1. Lack of Foreign Influence
Even though Italian food is renowned worldwide and thus has undergone different variations (*ahem* Hawaiian pizza *ahem*), food in Italy hasn’t changed a lot over the years. Moreover, Italy as a country does not have many restaurants from other cultures compared to, let’s say, the US.
Some people will look at this as a positive thing. Having food be in its pristine, primal condition is only appropriate to affirm quality; some critics have cited this as a fatal flaw when talking about Italian food, coffee especially, not to innovate.
While countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom treat coffee with such concoction, a commodity, and more of a leisure drink (see Latte art, for example), Italians have a realistic view of coffee. Resident Italian barista Lorenzo Sordini has stated that coffee to Italians is something they drink to wake up, just like how one drinks beer to get drunk.
However, other experts also came to defend the Italian coffee. For example, award-winning barista James Hoffman has referred to coffee worldwide only as a “caricature” to Italian coffee.
2. Italian coffee is roasted longer
Coffee around the world is enjoyed differently from Italy. Take the roasting method for example; around the world, baristas have classified the roasting methods into the so-called “Big 4”, mainly the light roast, medium roast, medium-dark roast, and the dark roast, having the light roast be roasted the quickest and the dark roast being roasted the longest. In Italy, however, it’s an entirely different story.
Italians are known to have a high tolerance to bitterness but are on the low spectrum when it comes to the sourness of coffee. Most coffee lovers around the world enjoy the slightly sour taste, but not Italy however. Italy prefers its coffee to be quite bitter but not sour at all.
To achieve this feat, Italians roast their coffee beans much longer than the rest of the world. With this, they give up more complex flavors (since complex flavors are associated with lighter roasts) for a much simpler yet very bitter one (which, again in Italy, bitter coffee equates to good).
Many people say that this long brew time results in Italian coffee being the same everywhere else, making it infuriatingly bland in the long run. However, some critics praise this consistency, citing that this same taste everywhere means that your coffee will have a consistent taste all over Italy.
3. Hot is the word! Italian coffee is served very hot
Some people may not like coffee being served quite hot, but to Italians, this is an identity, a trademark for Italian coffee. Serving coffee cold wears down the Italian name of Italian coffee.
However, food blogger and journalist Sara Porro has criticized this serving choice as “having it hot to hide the poor quality of the coffee.” She has also made comments regarding the temperature to burn your tongue and that the coffee beans taste burnt as well (as Italians roast their coffee beans much longer).
4. Italian coffee’s true secret? Freshness.
Mike Winters, a former caffè owner, and operator once visited Catania Sicily in 1992. He was fascinated when he tasted the espresso from a local coffee shop in Italy, citing that he has never stated such quality anywhere else. As a coffee aficionado himself, he put coffee justice on his very hands and started to investigate.
The first step he did was ask to buy some of the roasted beans from the coffee shop, to which the coffee shop referred him to a local coffee brewer. Once he arrived there, though, he noticed that the roasted beans weren’t actually an Italian roast or espresso roast, for that matter. The beans weren’t made for a cup of espresso, much to his dismay.
Investigating further, he went back to the coffee shop and realized that the bag of roasted coffee beans he was holding was precisely the same as the one in the coffee shop, the coffee shop where he bought espresso. It wasn’t after a while when he realized that it was a matter of freshness of the roast, not the beans themselves.
Although the beans played an important role, one can’t deny the importance of freshness. If in New York, the espresso you just drank may have been made from coffee beans roasted a week or two ago. In Italy (as per Mike Winter’s experience), the roasters made multiple batches a day and distributed them throughout the day. It would imply that the espresso Mike Winters drank was actually from coffee beans roasted just a few hours before.
5. Un-replicability / Experience
Although we have attributed the unique flavors in Italian coffee to its preparation methods, some people attribute the different tastes in Italian as coffee due to the brain’s perception of taste and mainly the placebo effect.
Although Italian coffee certainly is different from other coffees around the world, some have said that the experience of drinking within Italy itself is a strong factor as to why Italian coffee tastes so different. Do you agree with this sentiment or not? It’s up to you to decide.
Do Italians Drink Strong Coffee?
If there’s one fact that has been repeated in the article multiple times already, it’s that Italians like their coffee aggressively bitter, not sour. To achieve this, Italians roast them longer, thus having their coffee be of dark roast.
The strength of coffee, however, increases the less it is roasted. Light roasts are known to have the most robust flavors as their natural oils are still pretty intact compared to Italy’s beans which have been roasted for far longer than the oils have already caramelized.
However, if one associates strength less from flavor concentration but more on bitterness, Italian coffee is undoubtedly strong! More robust than most dark roasts, in fact.
Three frequently asked questions about Italian coffee
What coffee beans do Italians use?
Most Italians rely on the cheaper Robusta and the more expensive Arabica.
Where are the coffee beans in Italy from?
Robusta coffee in Italy is mainly from South America, Vietnam, and Indonesia. On the other hand, arabica is mostly from African countries like Ethiopia.
Is the Dark, Italian or French roast more bitter?
The Italian roast is more bitter. Additionally, the Italian roast is roasted longer to the point of it tasting burnt.