What to Know About Coffee in Italy — And Where to Find the Best Coffee in Rome

Where to find the best coffee in Rome

The sad news arrived this week that Italy is truly, finally getting its first Starbucks — which seems like the perfect time to talk about coffee in Italy. You know, Italian coffee in Italy. What it is. How to order it. What the various kinds (macchiato, lungo, cappuccino, mamma mia!) really meanAnd, naturally, where to find the best coffee in Rome (and beyond).

But first, let’s get one thing out of the way: what coffee in Italy is not.

How to know your coffee isn’t Italian-style

Italian coffee is not something you would mistake on the first sip for a weirdly hot milkshake. It does not require 10 minutes of you patiently waiting for a barista to make it only to then grab it to go and rush out the door with it in your hand as if, at that precise moment, the urgency of your situation suddenly became apparent. It is not served in a cup so large it could be mistaken for an army barracks stock pot.

And it does not in any way taste like peppermint, spiced pumpkin or like what would happen if you burned butter, added it to raw bitter greens, then boiled the two together. (Yes: that last point means properly-done espresso, from good-quality beans, does not have that burned, bitter taste that you get from a mug of classic Starbucks roast).<p?

Got it? Good!

Okay, fine, but what’s the big deal with Italian coffee, anyway?

You mean, why does Italian coffee have such cachet that leading coffee chains worldwide all give their menu items Italian names… no matter how American/British/fill-in-the-blank their drinks really are?
Best coffee in Italy at Naples Caffe Mexico
At the best Italian bars, like Caffe Mexico in Naples, making an espresso is down to a science

For one thing, because Italians invented coffee culture. No, they weren’t the first to harvest—or brew—the beans. But they were the first in Europe to open a coffee house (Venice, 1629), to invent the espresso machine (Turin, 1884) and to come up with the macchinetta (the stovetop percolator first produced by Bialetti, still the leading creator of the moka, in 1933).

Or, as the owner of Caffè Sant’Eustachio in Rome once put it to me years ago, when I asked him why he thought not a single Starbucks had opened in Rome:

Macchiatto, espresso, cappuccino — these are all Italian names. Why would we buy the American version of these drinks when we’re the ones who invented them?”

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Inside Vatican City

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Want to know the best ways to explore Vatican City and get to know the Pope — beyond St. Peter’s Basilica? Check out my roundup of Vatican secrets in the August/September issue of National Geographic Traveler (…it’s the cover story!), from where to shop for papal socks to seeing the “other” Sistine Chapel. Not in the US? You can also check out a version of the piece online here.

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What to Eat in Rome — And Where

Carbonara-from-Da-Danilo

When in Rome, eat Roman food. (Duh). But to have the best possible culinary experience, go a step further: have the city's most top-notch traditional dishes… at the restaurants that make them in the tastiest, most authentic ways. And it's not always easy to know where that is, since a trattoria that serves up only mediocre meat courses might make the best pasta alla gricia in Rome, while a restaurant usually better ignored might actually be the number-one spot for carciofi alla giudia.

Luckily, here's help! Here are six of Rome's must-eat dishes — and my favorite places for trying each one — in my first piece for the Travel Channel. (Stay tuned for more!)

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Italy in 30 Days

03-italy-scarf.w529.h352.2xThis month, New York Magazine is taking a little trip to Italy, with stories every day on the trials, tribulations, myths and magic of la bella vita. I'm excited to be contributing ten (count 'em… ten!) different pieces throughout the month. I'll be updating this post with the links as they publish. Enjoy!

Ciao, bella: 15 lessons from my life in Italy. How does living in Italy change you? Oh, let me count the ways…

Three pasta recipes to impress your Italian lover. Yes, you can recreate those amazing pastas you had in Rome, at home. How do I know? Because if I can do it, anyone can. Here's how.

From Italian nutritionists: Eat cookies for breakfast. In moderation, of course. That, and how to fit gelato, pasta and cappuccino into your diet, straight from the mouths of Italian dieticians. You're welcome.

To Rome with love: Six hidden-gem neighborhoods refreshingly free from tourists (for now). Even devoted readers of Revealed Rome will find some surprises. That's a promise.

Wild, medieval, non-touristy Umbria: A brief tour. It's my favorite region in Italy. Here's how to get started on exploring it — whether in a day or seven.

Naples: Less garbage, just as much to love. Not everyone falls in love with Naples, a city almost as maligned in Italy as it is abroad. I did. Here's why (and why it might deserve a stop on your next Italy trip).

Is your olive oil lying about its virginity? (It might not even be Italian!). My Q&A with intrepid investigative reporter Tom Mueller on an industry so scandalous, profits from fraudulent oil are on par with those from cocaine trafficking — and on why you should care.

Why won't Italians have cappuccino after dinner? Plus: can colpo d'aria (a hit of air) really give you a neck pain? And does a digestivo really help you digest? I talk to doctors to get to the truth behind eight rules that many Italians insist you follow — because otherwise, you might getsickandDIE.

Want real Italian food? Skip these seven dishes. From spaghetti and meatballs to fra diavolo, some of the plates most beloved by Little Italy neighborhoods across America are all but impossible to find in the motherland. Here's why, and what to order instead.

The mayor shouldn't have gone to Capri this summer. Here are five other Italian islands I'd have sent de Blasio that are every bit as stunning as the glitzy isle, but far more under the radar.

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Visiting Rome at Christmas (and New Year): The Ultimate Guide (Updated for 2018)

Ah, Rome at Christmas! With the festive lights a-sparkling and families a-shopping, Christmas trees a-twinkling and nativity scenes a-…um, whatever nativity scenes do — well, it really is the most wonderful time of year.

Want to make the most of it? Here’s my complete guide to Rome at Christmas… and New Year, too.

Rome at Christmas basics: what will be open, what will be closed, and other burning questions

In the short video below, I answer some of readers’ biggest questions about visiting Rome at Christmas.

Here’s the breakdown of what holiday hours (and closures) to expect at museums, shops, restaurants, and with public transport in Rome.

What to do when visiting Rome at Christmas and New Year’s

Rome at Christmas Piazza Navona market
One beloved Christmas tradition in Rome: the Christmas market at Piazza Navona

Rome has lots of special events and activities over Christmas. Here are 9 festive experiences in Rome from the end of November to the beginning of January, from ice-skating to Christmas markets.

And speaking of Christmas markets… here are some of your best bets for the 2018-19 season.

You can always pay the (new!) pope a visit, too. Here’s how to see the new pope over the holidays.

Rome at Christmas
Christmas lights at Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina

One of the best activities: just wandering the gloriously lit-up streets. In this photo essay, check out what it’s looked like in past years.

Rome at Christmas means nativities
Presepio at the Church of Sant’Eustachio

The presepi (Christmas nativity) exhibit I wrote about for the New York Times a couple of years ago is still going strong. There’s also a whole museum devoted to the craft of Christmas crib-making.

Christmas shopping in Rome

Christmas shopping in Rome - a great part of visiting Rome at Christmas
One traditional Italian gift: a beautifully-wrapped panettone

Get off of Via del Corso (no, really, please get off Via del Corso), and you’ll find tons of hidden independent boutiques and artisanal workshops in Rome — great for finding the perfect gift.

Here are nine of my favorite shops for buying one-of-a-kind gifts in Rome. And here’s one of my favorite streets for shopping in Rome.

Rome’s markets are great for gift-shopping year-round. More on gift shopping at Rome’s best markets in my piece for the New York Times.

Give a great gift — and give back to a good cause — by shopping at Libera Terra, Italy’s fantastic anti-Mafia cooperative.

Not in Rome for your Christmas shopping? Here are some of my favorite artisans in Italy whose work can be shipped abroad (including mosaic from Ravenna, masks from Venice, and more). And here are some authentic, gourmet gifts for foodies, from the best Italian cookbooks to authentic prosciutto and Pecorino. 

Finally, here are the best Italian gifts on the web and the most thoughtful gifts for Italy-bound travelers, both new for 2014. (Check out my past gift guides for Italy lovers here!).

Christmas and New Year’s traditions in Rome and Italy

Not Rome-specific, but fun and useful: a quick guide to how the Christmas season is celebrated across Italy.

One of the biggest Christmas traditions in Rome is la befana. She’s the figure you’ll see across Rome come the holidays — and with her hooked nose and broomstick, she’s often mistaken for a witch. Here’s what to know about la befanaand this super-sweet video, below, explores the tradition further.

If you’re going to be a guest of an Italian family for any holiday meals, or you want to cook (or eat) according to Italian tradition this Christmas yourself, don’t miss this post on how to have an Italian Christmas meal.

Italian food is super-regional. But at every bakery in Rome in Christmas, you will see pandoro (a golden cake originally from Verona), as well as panettone (from Milan). Don’t miss my BBC Travel story about what you don’t know about panettone.

Christmas sweets in Rome - a great part of Rome in Christmas
Tastings of torrone, panpepato and panforte at the pandoro festival in Rome

Want to know about New Year’s? These are some of the main New Year’s traditions in Italy. (Yes, my Italian friends really insist on wearing red underwear. So much so a [female!] Roman friend once even gave me red underwear as a gift… just to be sure I would).

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

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How to Spend a Rainy Day in Rome

Rain in Rome day itinerary
Rain in Rome… doesn’t mean all is lost!

‘Tis the season… for rain in Rome. (Ah, November!). And in a city where so many of the sights are outdoors, and so much is meant to be explored on foot, rain can feel like a real deal-breaker.

It’s not.

Sure: There are always the Vatican museums. And if you’re lucky, maybe you booked your Borghese Gallery or Palazzo Valentini tickets for exactly the day the skies opened up.

But let’s go beyond the obvious, shall we? Here’s what I’d call the perfect rainy day in Rome: an itinerary that hits up spots that are cozy, indoors, off-the-beaten-path, interesting — and located in neighborhoods that, while charming, aren’t so cobblestoned-street-picturesque that you’ll be upset to miss the chance to photograph them at their sunny best.

So get your umbrellas ready (and, by the way, one good thing about rain in Rome is that, as soon as it starts, umbrella-sellers pop up all over the city. So it’s okay if you’ve forgotten yours. Just, please, barter the sellers down to 2 or 3 euros for a small one; it’ll fall apart by the end of the day anyway!).

Let’s go! (And don’t miss my post on five reasons not to mind the rain in Rome, in pictures!).

9:30am: Coffee and cornetti at Cafe Barberini

Rain in Rome, have a coffee!
The morning bustle at Cafe Barberini

No matter where you’re staying in Rome, the neighborhood of Testaccio is easy to get to: You can take the metro (get off at Piramide, then walk five minutes) or a number of buses (including the 3 and 75).

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Reveal Rome, Episode 1

Remember back… um… a while ago, when I said I'd be doing a series to answer those burning Italy- or travel-related questions in video form? Well, first (September) episode is above.
This is something I'll be doing every month, so before the next video launches on Oct. 15, make sure to send me your questions! Either email them to me (revealedrome@gmail.com), tweet them @revealedrome (hashtag #revealrome), or post them below here.
Thanks, and I look forward to receiving—and answering—your questions!
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How to Get from Ciampino Airport to Rome (Updated for 2018)

Now you can go to the top level of the Colosseum in Rome

Need to get from Ciampino airport to Rome? Yeah, you could take a taxi. But unless some serious stress and/or getting ripped off immediately on landing in Italy is your thing, you probably won’t want to. Luckily, there are lots of other ways to get from Ciampino to Rome.

Better yet, these options are easy, fast… and much cheaper than taking a taxi or transfer. All of these options get you into the Termini train station; from there, you can jump on Rome’s metro (either the A or B lines), take a bus, or grab a cab (from Termini, it shouldn’t be more than €15 at the most to get to another part of the city center).

(Wondering about Uber? Don’t worry — that’s at the end too).

(Note: This information has been updated as of April 2018).

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New Video: The Coolest Keyhole in Rome

One of my favorite local secrets in Rome is… a keyhole. No, really. Located on up on the Aventine hill, a peek through gives you a view of not one, not two, but three sovereign states—plus, there’s a special surprise (and photo op!)
that you can see through it.

Come with me to explore the coolest keyhole in Rome in my latest video!

And don’t forget, for more great tips and tricks, check out The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon, below, or through my site here! (And, yes, the keyhole is where I grabbed the shot for the cover).

Thanks for watching!

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