To most people, Italy has enough coffee. In fact there’s the caffè lungo and corto, the caffè corretto and stretto, caffè machiato, americano, caffè latte and caffè d’orzo and – of course – the quintessential cappuccino, just to name a few. To the many folks who come from the land of “shots,” “grandes” and “Frappuccinos,” I can understand how this can all be very mystifying. Yet the next time you are in an Italian coffee house (or simply, caffè), remember that you may just be touching the bean when it comes to Italian coffee.
Just as most regions in Italy have their own cuisine, many also have their own local version of coffee. In Torino, for example, the Bicerin (pronounced /bee-sure-ean/) is a beverage you can only find in the coffee houses of Fiat’s native city. It’s a combination of coffee, foamed whole milk and chocolate – another local specialty. More interesting still is the history behind the drink, and the historical figures who used to drink it (and those important figures who still do today). Apparently the beverage came about in the early 1800s – although some reports date it to the 1700s – from another coffee house in Torino the Café della Bicerin: a few blocks away from where I made the film below. If you consider the drink was already popular by the time Torino became the first capital of Italy in 1861, chances are personalities like Cavour were drinking bicerin in 19th century Torino.
Often times it’s not just the coffee you drink that’s important, but where you drink it. In the case of Baratti and Milano, they have been making chocolates and coffee for well over 150 years. The architecture is reminiscent of the Italian Risorgimento, and the coffee house’s interior is stunningly beautiful. It’s no wonder the upper-class Italian bourgeois would meet here in the 1800s and discuss Italy’s political future. It’s true that at times a coffee is just a coffee. Yet at times it’s also a step back in time to taste the savors of another century. When drinking a bicerin at a historic Italian bar, it suddenly becomes an experience beyond just coffee: it’s cultural engagement.