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Less Is More: Rome’s Coffee Culture @BethFishReads #weekendcooking

Putting in a full work week after our big anniversary trip to Rome has brought it home to me that I’m not actually an Italian woman with the means to eat out all the time and the leisure to walk off multiple two- and three-course meals every day.

But, while returning home has meant less food at mealtimes, it also means more coffee!

stack of four books by Elena Ferrante and coffee in a mugMy cheap souvenir coffee mug from Rome and my great birthday gift from my husband. He didn’t realize I read My Brilliant Friend on the plane ride back, but now I don’t have to buy the other three!

Since we wanted to have a relaxing vacation, we decided to stay in one spot instead of traveling around. Of course, Rome has such a huge amount of art and historical and religious sites (and the Pope!) as well as numerous romantic spots (not to mention food! and wine!) that it’s already an appealing tourist destination, but something else that attracted me to the idea of Rome was hearing that it had a “coffee culture”.

So Romans are serious about their coffee? I pictured sipping brews from different coffee bean blends in the mornings at the counters of coffee “bars” all over the city, and sampling local wines with dinner (and lunch, as it turned out). What could be better?

Here’s where the importance of doing your research in advance comes in.  I did know that in Rome, caffè means espresso. Strong, black coffee — that’s great, just the way I like it. I even knew that espresso cups are very small compared to American coffee cup sizes, but we two caffeine-dependent travelers discovered to our dismay that you don’t even get those tiny little cups filled when you order “due caffè” (two coffees). Two sips and you’re done!

espresso in cup with a cannolo in backgroundTeensy-tiny espresso with a great big cannolo in the background! This is a tourist concession, too, because espresso is supposed to come after the meal, not with dessert.

Amusingly, we finally realized we needed to learn how to order two “double espressos” so in the second half of our vacation, when we had finished our (large) lunch at a restaurant near the Vatican, my husband valiantly asked for due caffè doppio, and we thought we were all set. But the waiter stumped us by asking in his halting English if we wanted it in a “bigger cup or regular cup”.

Since there was PLENTY of room left in the regular espresso cup for twice the amount of espresso, we said “regular cup”. To our dismay, we received two cups with the same amount of espresso in each as usual, just double-strength! Oh, well, I guess it gave us the extra boost we were looking for for our afternoon at the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s!

Mouse over these photos from the Vatican and Vatican Museums to enlarge them or to read my riveting captions:

Eating Rome by Elizabeth Minchilli (see my last Weekend Cooking post) has a whole chapter on how to drink coffee in Rome and there are also many blog post with better pictures and full explanations and even a Kindle e-book on the subject, so I’m not going to go into detail here, except to say that we didn’t want to cave while we were there and start ordering “caffè Americano” all the time, although we did drink it greedily each morning from the “American-style” buffet breakfast buffet at our hotel each morning. (The big urn labeled “coffee” was espresso with boiling water added to fill up the urn.  Et voila! Caffè Americano!)

The Hotel Veneto Palace streetOur home away from home, the Hotel Veneto Palace on Via Piemonte

I knew from reading Eating Rome that the usual Roman breakfast is at most a croissant with your espresso, but the hotel provided a wide range of tourist-pleasing breakfast foods from granola and yogurt to scrambled eggs. We appreciated the effort to cater to American tourists, but I was usually still full from the previous night’s dinner which would start at the earliest at 8 p.m. and go to 11 p.m., so it wasn’t hard for me to have the Roman-style croissant breakfast, except, of course, for drinking multiple cups of caffè Americano instead of a single espresso. And except for the last day when I had TWO croissants – one plain and one  chocolate chip – very American!! It was also adorable and funny that – just as we Americans got things a little bit off when we tried to understand Romans and their habits – the hotel served up steamed hotdogs in place of breakfast sausage!

My adventurous husband was disappointed in me for shying away from trying to experience actual Roman coffee culture by going into the small, dark coffee bars crammed with locals who would be annoyed by tourists coming in and drinking coffee at their counter and trying to act like we knew what we were doing with our extremely minimal Italian! Each time we passed one, he’d suggest going in and I’d chicken out and say no, it was too crowded, or too seedy-looking, or not authentic, etc.

And so we’d end up at a sidewalk cafe once again, with all the other tourists!

But, hey, we WERE tourists, after all, however much we tried to fit in.


For more on drinking coffee in Italy:

How to Drink Espresso Like an Italian
How to Order an Italian Coffee in Italy
How to Order Coffee in Italy

Happy Weekend Cooking!

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13 thoughts on “Less Is More: Rome’s Coffee Culture @BethFishReads #weekendcooking”

  1. Hi Laurie. What a great post!!! I loved your photos and I say YES to more coffee!!

    By the way, in regard to the comment you left me:
    I am waiting to start Lee Childs until I am done with Tana French and Peter Robinson. But I am looking forward to it. I love a series!

  2. What a great post, Laurie! I’ve visited Rome a couple times, but years and years ago. I’m not a coffee drinker, but can certainly understand the frustration and disappointment of not getting to truly sample the coffee culture there as you had hoped.

    Still, what a grand place to vacation! Thanks for sharing these wonderful photos. 🙂

  3. Too funny. A double espresso gets me twice as much coffee in a single mug in northwestern Europe. I will have to study your posts if I ever go to Rome. I *need* coffee and lots of it. 🙂

    1. The poor waiter was asking us if we wanted twice the amount of coffee (bigger cup) or just double-strength but between our scant Italian and his English, we just misunderstood each other!

  4. I agree, it’s hard for Americans to get used to those tiny amounts! And then, the natives sit there all day with those two sips! LOL And then of course there is the whole thing with the “coffee shop” in Amsterdam, which is where one goes to buy pot! (One has to go to a “cafe” for the other stuff….)

    1. I visited Amsterdam for a week when I was in high school, but that was a hundred years ago, and I didn’t drink coffee then, but that’s good to know in case I get back there!

  5. What a fun post. I am not a coffee drinker so I do not appreciate all the nuances to drinking coffee. The standing at the counter for your morning coffee is interesting. I guess no different than going to Starbucks which I do not understand. I prefer in my house relaxed to enjoy my morning tea.

  6. I’ve been reading about coffee recently; it is confusing. Glad you worked it out in the end, and you’ve taught me something too. I can understand you not wanting to visit the small cafes; one for next time perhaps? 🙂

    Love the photos. And yay for the books!

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