Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


Caffé is the Italian word for coffee and properly indicates the Italian way of preparing this beverage at home, as distinguished from the espresso, which is prepared instead with electrical steam machines; in Italian, however, the term is briefly used to indicate both.

Italians, and especially Neapolitans, reserve a general attention in the preparation, in the selection of the blends and in the use of accessories, contributing to enforce a special culture focused on the drink.

The necessary instrument, the Caffettiera, is essentially a steam machine made of a bottom boiler, a central filter which contains the coffee powder, and an upper cup. In the traditional Moka, water is put in the boiler and the resulting steam crosses the coffee, then reaches the cup where it condenses again. The Neapolitan Caffettiera has instead a different working function, and needs to be turned upside down when the drink is ready. Its boiler and cup are therefore interexchangeable.

The quantity of coffee to be put in the filter determines the "richness" of the final beverage, but special cares are needed in order not to block the steam from crossing it, in case of an excess of powder. Some hints prescribe that some small vertical holes are left in the powder by using a fork.

A small fire has to be used, in order to have the appropriate steam pressure: a high pressure makes the steam run too quickly, without flavouring. The fire under the Caffettiera has to be turned off ten seconds after the first characteristic noise is heard, and eventually lit again in case the cup was not filled.

Like for espresso machines, the more coffees the machine makes without being cleaned, the more tasty the final drink is. A good compromise between hygiene and taste, is having the caffettiera cleaned once every two days, before the coffee remains begin to turn bad.

Italians usually add some sugar.

The "Caffetteria" (two "f"s and two "t"s) is the public service in which Caffé was traditionally made with Moka, and in the 19th century it was the specialized place for enjoying it, while the domestic habit started at the beginning of the 20th century, when Caffettiere became available to the general public.

In elder Caffetterie, art and culture events were held, being places in which the upper classes used to spend relevant parts of their days. So many of these places became important sites (like, for instance, the famous "Caffé Greco" in Via dei Condotti, Rome) and became famous for being the usual meeting points of artists, intellectuals, politicians, etc. It was mainly enjoyed by men, while women organised their tea meetings.

For an appropriate formal afternoon service, the caffé is always brought with a silver pot, porcelain cups (which should be the thinner and the less decorated as possible) are always on a small dish and have their small silver spoon on the right (on the dish). Sugar is brought apart, in porcelain pots, with a separate silver spoon. After the consumption, smokers are usually allowed to lit their cigarettes (the service typically includes a porcelain ashtray) if not in the presence of women (who usually invite them to do it, if they wish). Pastry is not properly indicated to accompany this ceremony, but an exception can be made in case there are women at the table. The coffee pot has to be left on the table, for a second cup. After-lunch coffee is enjoyed in separate smaller tables, not at the main one, and children are obviously not welcome to join the team.

Cappuccino is not related with the traditional domestic coffee, being made with espresso machine. However, Caffellatte is made with a simple moisture of hot coffee and hot milk, and served in cups that are larger than tea cups. Caffetterie usually serve Caffellatte too.