Coffee is an iconic drink, a morning secular rite and, as such, it has celebrants, disciples and slanderous. Only wine can boast of a longer history, for sure not a wider audience. As wine, coffee is valued for its terroirs and the complexity of flavors.
While the plant clearly originated in Ethiopia, the genesis of coffee as a drink are shrouded in mystery: seeds travelled with Yemen sailors, across the Gulf of Aden, crossed sandy dunes and rocky deserts with Arabic nomads, arriving to Mecca, Cairo, Damascus, Istanbul. If we owe to Sultan Suleiman The Magnificent the merit of refining the way to prepare and serve coffee (roasting beans on fire, then finely ground them and slowly cook with water), undoubtedly, the primacy for making it mainstream in Europe, goes to Italy, and specifically to Venice with its first coffee shops dating back to 1630.
Prospero Alpini, a botanist and personal physician of Venetian Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, was the first to write a botanical treaty on the coffee plant (along with the first treaty on bananas but that’s another story). Back in Venice around mid 1590, he shared with Venetian the secrets of how to roast the beans and prepare this strong, aromatic drink and the never-ending love story between Italians and coffee started.
Italy has four coffee capitals: Venice, Napoli, Torino and Trieste.
Venice started it all, inventing cafes and giving the world the social occasion of gathering in public spaces for discussing literature or politics, cultivating love affairs, all with an energetic cup of coffee. Café Florian is the oldest café in history still shining under the arcade of Piazza San Marco. From Venice, the fashion of cafés spread out to all other Italian and European cities.
Industrious Torino has the merit of the first espresso machine by Angelo Moriondo in 1884, later perfectioned by Luigi Bezzera; while we owe to another torinese, Alfonso Bialetti, the creation of the home moka-pot, sold in millions of pieces and an ultimate design icon.
Napoli, city of saints, singers and poets, could not help but celebrate coffee wide and largely, and give its etiquette and even some mysterious rules. Neapolitans pride themselves of the unbeatable excellence of their espressos and take offence if you doubt it: short, thick and dark as hell. Only Napoli, with its social complexity and contradictions, could invent suspended coffees, way before the concept spread around in digital era.
Trieste is one of the world most important coffee hubs, with its port, a commodity exchange and a florid industry built around this trade since 1719. Unique in the world, Trieste hosts a Università del Caffè, dedicated to teaching the art of selecting, roasting and serving coffee, a barista paradise on hearth.
A small fishing port under the Venetian dominium, Trieste literally bloomed under the 400 years of Hapsburgs regency, which gave it the most enduring mark and the shape of the city we admire today: elegant and flamboyant, sometimes pompous, palaces, bright and airy piazzas, among them, probably one of the most beautiful of whole Italy, Piazza Unità d’Italia. But beware: Trieste takes time to reveal its soul and it's not easy to conquer the heart of Triestini.
Take coffee for example: you traveled a lot in Italy, you love Italy after all, you walked your way to behave like a local, feel confident enough to enter a café in Florence, Milano, Rome or Venice, and, like an Italian, aloud to the barista: “buongiorno, un liscio!” ... you never really say "un espresso" in Italy. Of course, you know all the lingo … cappuccino, macchiato, macchiatone, americano, shakerato, corretto, ristretto, even the marocchino … you master the etiquette, after all you’ll never order a cappuccino later than 10am right?
When in Trieste forget everything you devoutly learned and prepare yourself to an entire new slang and ceremony: if you wish an espresso, then ask “un nero” and you might dare to behave like a local asking for a “nero in b”: your espresso will be served in a small glass, a unique feature of caffe triestini. Then in Trieste a cappuccino is what the rest of Italians call macchiato; you wish a macchiato (an espresso with some foamy milk), in Trieste you have to order “un capo”, and if you like it in the glass then, confidently, ask for a “capo in b”.
And the cappuccino? In Trieste is a caffellatte, which, on the other hand, Triestini call latte macchiato. Oh well this is difficult even for an Italian, I know.
Variations are countless, sophisticated expressions that might be able to push on the verge of a nervous breakdown even the most navigated of the barista. In Trieste, at the counter, next to the sugar bowl, you always find a miniature milk jug as you can freely pour some drop of cold milk in you espresso, those more experienced among you might have seen this even in other Northern cities. Trieste peculiarity goes beyond ... don’t be dazed if a local, next to you, impassive order a "gocciato": that’s a capo with only few drops of foamy milk, poured right at the center of the cup. Lost? Don’t worry, gorgeous Trieste takes time to unveil its secrets but Triestini are generous and the reward is awesome! Curious? start planning here your trip to Trieste
Good reads to approch Trieste:
Jan Morris, Trieste The Meaning Of Nowhere
Dasa Drndic, Trieste
John Mccourt, The Years of Bloom: James Joyce in Trieste