Why does a cup of coffee taste so much better in Italy? – words Alan Woods

Back in the 1980s Howard Schultz, who worked for a little known coffee shop back in the US, was in Milan on a buying trip.

He was enjoying a cup of expresso in a coffee bar overlooking a grand Milanese square and he began to think. He realised that these coffee bars were on every street and square right across Italy. They were part of the social fabric and enjoyed by nearly all Italians.

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The coffee shop he worked for back in the US was called Starbucks and he ended up buying the company and setting out on a massive expansion programme that continues to this day. This tale is now part of coffee culture history.

So now Britain, long raised on tea and biscuits, has a Starbucks (or one or more of its competitors) on virtually every street in the country. We’ve also taken our love of the bean into our homes. We experiment with the latest blend or sit back and enjoy nespresso pods of Gourmesso – getting as close as we can to that memory of drinking coffee in that atmospheric square in Venice.

We have fallen in love with coffee in all its varieties but following on from the US we can’t help but mess with a good thing. Maybe it’s our sweet tooth but we have to add virtually anything we can to counteract the natural bitterness of the roasted coffee bean. So we add sugar and top milky versions with chocolate and cinnamon but nowadays we go that one step further with all sorts of syrups and concoctions to make a hybrid version that is far removed from the Italian original and would horrify many native Italians. How about a vanilla soya milk latte with a caramel drizzle and hazelnut syrup?

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We’ve come a long way since the first US branded coffee shop opened back in the late eighties. But why does a coffee taste so much better in Rome than it does in Manchester?

It is true, as many people say, that Italians know how to make a good coffee. It is part of their culture. They know how long to roast the beans and use the best varieties. It is very much like when you order a cup of tea in Italy or even the US and you get back something that you wouldn’t drink back home. Either white and pale or stewed and sour. It is the same with coffee. They are brought up on it and see how their mums or dads makes the perfect cup of coffee at home. Mainly though I suspect it is part of our own romantic ideas of Italy when we travel. Sitting on the perfect square in Rome or Milan and sipping your coffee is part of our own idea of Italy. We are soaking in a touristic version of the country and enjoying their coffee culture is part of that.

Back in the UK we like to recall those wonderful moments at the local US style coffee house. It is close but can never fully recapture that holiday in the sun to Tuscany or Sicily and why should it? In trying to find that perfect cup of coffee was are reliving the dream, we are transported back to that square in our favourite part of Italy.

Why does a cup of coffee taste so much better in Italy? – words Alan Woods

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