The Chiappas, authors of Simply Italian: Cooking at Home with The Chiappa Sisters, give their guide to how Italian coffee should be served. (And, in true Italian style, it will no doubt spark some heated debates and controversy!) From Cappuccino to Latte, Macchiato to Mocha, the Chiappa sisters explain the dos and dont’s of drinking authentic Italian coffee.
Our first rule is that you should obviously drink your hot drinks as you like them – and there’s a perfect example of rule-breaking in our own family. Generally, you won’t see an Italian drinking a cappuccino after 11 a.m. (after this, they only order espresso or a long black coffee), but our Mum loves a milky, creamy coffee in the afternoon – and Dad is always horrified!
CAPPUCCINO: A real Italian cappuccino should be served warm (not scalding hot), in a small cup. The coffee should be smooth and the milk should have a slight mousse-like texture. You don’t need to boil your milk to get nice big frothy bubbles. Run away if you see a barista pumping the milk jug under the steam wand! Most Italians drink a cappuccino in the morning with a brioche, standing at the bar and enjoying some chit-chat with their local barista.
ESPRESSO: An espresso is a short black coffee and it is the most popular way to drink coffee in Italy. It should be served with a good layer of crema on the top – the golden layer that sits on top of your coffee. If it doesn’t have a crema layer, your coffee is likely to be sharp and bitter. The crema is made from oils extracted from fresh coffee beans and it gives your coffee a smoother taste. An espresso is the basis of all other coffees, so if your barista cannot get this part right, then he’s starting off on the wrong foot! There is a misconception that a cappuccino or latte contains less coffee than an espresso (we often have customers in the café saying, ‘Oh, no, I can’t have an espresso, as that’s too much caffeine for me!’) but most coffees start life as a shot of espresso – a cappuccino or latte will just make it go further!
MACCHIATO: This is an espresso with a dash of frothy milk. If you don’t want to drink a straight shot of coffee but you don’t want a long milky coffee either, then this is the drink for you.The verb ‘macchiare’ means ‘to stain’, so this drink literally means an espresso, stained with a dash of milk.
LATTE: Latte actually translates as ‘milk’; it was the Americans who started to use this term to refer to a long milky coffee with a little bit of foam on the top. In Italy, you will need to ask for a latte macchiato, as otherwise you will get a glass of milk. Again, this should never be scalding hot, as it will burn the coffee and give a bitter taste.
MOCHA: A mocha is a latte with a shot of chocolate syrup. Baristas will often present this in a tall glass, so you can clearly see the three layers: chocolate, coffee and milk. We serve ours with thick dark or white chocolate. It’s that little bit more indulgent for when you want a real treat!
OUR HOT CHOCOLATE: The College House serves this with several secret ingredients added – it is like nothing you’ve tasted before. That’s all we’ll say on the matter; you’ll just have to come and try one!
HOT CHOCOLATE MOUSSE: This is for all you chocolate-lovers! It is exactly what it says: a thick chocolate mousse, which you’ll need to eat with a spoon. It’s more like a hot chocolate dessert than a drink and has the
consistency of custard. The chocolate actually contains potato starch and so the more you heat it, the thicker it becomes.