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, Italiancoffee in Italy. What it is. How to order it. What the various kinds (macchiato, lungo, cappuccino, mamma mia!) really mean. And, 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?
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?”
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.
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!)
This 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!
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.
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.
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 befana, and 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.
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.
‘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.
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!).
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).
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 (firstname.lastname@example.org), tweet them @revealedrome (hashtag #revealrome), or post them below here.
Thanks, and I look forward to receiving—and answering—your questions!
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).
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).