Not your average Starbucks

I’ve been amused by an article in the Telegraph titled ‘Ordering Coffee in Italy:  The 10 Commandments‘.  Here’s an excerpt.

I once met an Italian who didn’t drink coffee. He made light of the fact, but you could see that he was tired of having to explain his disability every time some new acquaintance uttered the standard Italian greeting: “Prendiamo un caffè?” (“Fancy a coffee?”). His breezy but faintly passive-aggressive manner concealed, I suspect, deep pools of self-doubt and underground lakes of wounded masculine pride. Vegetarians develop the same nonchalant yet haunted look when travelling in places like Mongolia, where meat comes with a side-dish of meat. But this Italian guy wasn’t a visitor, he was local. He was the Mongolian vegetarian.

Coffee is so much a part of Italian culture that the idea of not drinking it is as foreign as the idea of having to explain its rituals. These rituals are set in stone and not always easy for outsiders to understand.

. . .

2. Keep it simple

Thou shalt not muck around with coffee. Requesting a mint frappuccino in Italy is like asking for a single malt whisky and lemonade with a swizzle stick in a Glasgow pub. There are but one or two regional exceptions to this rule that have met with the blessing of the general coffee synod. In Naples, thou mayst order un caffè alla nocciola – a frothy espresso with hazelnut cream. In Milan thou can impress the locals by asking for un marocchino, a sort of upside-down cappuccino, served in a small glass which is first sprinkled with cocoa powder, then hit with a blob of frothed milk, then spiked with a shot of espresso.

. . .

9. The permitted drinks

Thou shall be allowed the following variations, and these only, from the Holy Trinity of caffè, cappuccino and caffé latte: caffè macchiato or latte macchiato – an espresso with a dash of milk or a hot milk with a dash of coffee (remember, mornings only); caffè corretto: the Italian builder’s early morning pick-me-up, an espresso “corrected” with a slug of brandy or grappa; and caffè freddo or cappuccino freddo (iced espresso or cappuccino) – but beware, this usually comes pre-sugared. Thou mayst also ask for un caffè lungo or un caffè ristretto if thou desirest more or less water in thine espresso.

There’s more at the link.

I can’t help but wonder whether the average Starbucks barista would understand most of the terms in #9 above.  They might in one of the ‘Little Italy‘ ethnic concentrations around the country, but elsewhere . . . ?  I think the Tennessee version of caffè corretto would probably involve moonshine!  As for “asking for a single malt whisky and lemonade with a swizzle stick in a Glasgow pub” . . . I think, if you did that, you’d be lucky to escape with your life.  Not a good idea – but I’d pay to watch you try it.

Of course, Scotland has some other rather strange mixtures to offer the discerning drinker – like this one. (Lyrics here, if you need them, but be warned – they’re rude!)

Wikipedia says of Hamish Imlach:  “He had his biggest hit in the late 1960s with “Cod Liver Oil and the Orange Juice,” a scurrilous and hilarious take on the American gospel standard “Virgin Mary Had a Little Baby” written by Ron Clark and Carl MacDougall. The song was for a time banned by the BBC as it was assumed to be full of double meanings, but at one point became the most requested song on British Forces Radio.”

Aye, weel . . .



  1. The Italians are dead serious about their coffee! No cappuccino after lunch either, I've seen tourists run out of the bars for even asking!!!

  2. Peter, now that you're officially a Texican, have you encountered that most strange libation, Scotch and milk?
    Never tried it myself, but years back it was supposedly a thing at least around the Houston area.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *