When it comes to food and drink culture, one thing is for sure: Coffee in Europe and across the Mediterranean is a very serious matter indeed. As you travel across the Mediterranean, you’ll notice a wealth of diverse rituals, each deeply rooted in the history of the place you are in. As a traveller, you’ll no doubt find these cultural nuances to be a source of endless fascination and want to do your research before you set off on your trip. From how to order coffee in Italy, to the different types of French coffee and the perfect time to drink it in Tunisia, there’s so much to discover from this simple, everyday ritual that takes place in homes and cafés across the Mediterranean.
Cappuccino and espresso in Italy
Italian culture is synonymous with coffee. There is no other country in the world that approaches coffee with as much reverence and intention. Admittedly, for an outsider, this can be a little daunting. Imagine: you arrive in Florence, tired from the journey but excited. The streets are buzzing with la chiaccherata and the smell of roasting beans hits your nostrils like a very welcome hug. All you want to do is sit down in a café, order a brew and watch the world go by. But suddenly, you find yourself asking: how do I order coffee in Italy? With deeply entrenched and rather baffling rules such as Thou Shalt Never Drink Cappuccino After 11 am and about one thousand different ways to serve it, it is difficult to know where to start. Here are three general rules to follow when ordering your caffè.
The day starts with milky coffee
Start your morning with a cappuccino, a latte macchiato or a caffè latte, a foamy, milky coffee that is the perfect accompaniment to your breakfast pastry. You may not, however, order any of these after 11 am unless you wish to be judged by everyone around you. Note: if you simply order a latte, you will be presented with a glass of milk – which is what it is.
You may drink as many espressos as you like
Although it’s possible to order one, nobody drinks double shots (caffè doppio) in Italy. If you need a big caffeine boost, simply order a second espresso soon after you finish your first. Warning: coffee in Italy is strong, so you may not even need that extra hit.
Coffee does not leave the bar
Unlike in other countries, Italians don’t do takeaway coffee. Espresso is normally consumed al banco – at the counter. Likewise, don’t think about asking for a grande; you will get the size you’re given and variations are not accepted. Finally, espresso should always come accompanied by a small glass of water. If you don’t get one, it’s because the server has forgotten, so don’t be afraid to ask for it!
Frappé: The best Greek coffee
In Greece, coffee is an inherent part of everyday life, enjoyed in tavernas and kafeneios (coffee shops) across the country and the countless islands dotted around the coastline. A traditional Greek brew is made in a similar way to the Turkish style, however, one of the most classic types of Greek coffee is the frappé, a cold coffee that’s been shaken with sugar to give it a light foam on top. It’s refreshing, delicious and perfect for a hot day at the beach.
The most satisfying way to immerse yourself in the culture of a place is to fall into step with its rhythms. Coffee culture is one of the most accessible and inclusive rituals found all along the Mediterranean. With a little research, you can gain a good understanding of the myriad ways to drink coffee in Europe and as such, gain an insight into one tiny snapshot of everyday life in a new place.
Coffee in Tunisia
In Tunisia, the coffee shop plays an integral role in everyday life. A symbol of inclusivity, they are the places where everyone, young and old, rich and poor, gathers to enjoy a moment of peace, a lively conversation and a sharp hit of espresso. Indubitably, the best place to get a feel for the Tunisian culture is in a café.
Tunisians are not as strict with their coffee rituals as the Italians or the French and their coffee type of choice is the infallible espresso, or “express” as it’s known over there. In the morning, many indulge in a capucin, the equivalent of a macchiato, or a direct, the equivalent of a cappuccino (confusingly). In the afternoon, the Tunisian equivalent of teatime takes the shape of strong espresso and a sweet, flaky pastry. For a real treat, try a qahwa arbi, a sweet Turkish coffee made by boiling fine grounds of coffee in a pot with sugar and finished with a drop of rose water.
Regardless of the type of Tunisian coffee you choose, you can bet it won’t cost more than one euro and, as you sip the fragrant liquid, you can feel like you are participating in a simple yet unifying and sacred tradition practised by many, every single day.
Which café should you drink in France?
While you may be au fait with the classic types of Italian coffee, a visit to France can present a whole new set of problems when it comes to ordering your morning cup. Confusingly, although they drink similar types of coffee as the Italians, the French have renamed each one to make it sound more, well, French. Let’s take a look over the different types of French coffee so you know exactly what to order in that charming pavement café.
This is the equivalent of an espresso. It is normally less strong than its Italian counterpart, with a splash of more water and, happily, often comes with a little chocolate or a biscuit on the side.
This is an americano, aka an espresso with the addition of hot water, often enjoyed after a meal.
Café au lait / Café crème
An iconic French coffee, the café au lait is the ideal breakfast drink, best enjoyed alongside a buttery, flaky croissant. In many bars in Paris, they will serve you a bowl-sized mug of café au lait with your breakfast, designed specifically for dipping your pastry into.
Literally translating to a “hazelnut”, this is an espresso with a splash of hot milk, as the Italian macchiato.