Carluccio’s, the 6,500-square-foot Italian Market and Cafe at 100 King Street in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia right on Alexandria’s waterfront, opened this summer and brought authentic food from all 21 regions of Italy in the historic, Italianate building as well as cooking classes and wine tastings.
Carluccio’s may be known for its authentic cuisine but, it also brought GREAT Italian coffee (Caffè in Italiano)!
I’m not a coffee drinker per se but, as a resident of Alexandria, Virginia I do frequent a local Starbucks nearly daily. I can’t stand regular coffee but, I love a good espresso. This week, I got to spend some time with Sebastiano Ligato, Operations Manager for Carluccio’s USA, who taught me the proper Italian Caffè etiquette. Etiquette for coffee? Really? Having never been to Italy and after doing some research on the subject, I have come to learn Italians are really strict about this.
Before I get started, let me say, once Carluccio’s opens for breakfast in Alexandria (rumored to be starting next month sometime), I will be at Carluccio’s DAILY in the morning for my espresso. The espresso is REALLY great! I also found my new favorite dessert item (see below).
Carluccio’s follows a three M rule when it comes to serving espresso.
- Mano (Hand) – This pertains to the soul of the espresso. Espresso should be made with care and love of the hand.
- Maquina (Machine) – Carluccio’s spend a lot of money to have great espresso machines and clean them in a very particular way so as to not alter the flavor of the espresso.
- Material (Coffee Beans) – The coffee beans at Carluccio’s are grown exclusively for Carluccio’s.
So, how does one drink ‘caffè’, the proper Italian way?
When referring to coffee in Italy, you are referring to espresso served in a demitasse cup. Coffee = espresso. If you hear someone order a ‘doppio’, that is a double espresso. However, Sebastiano says this is very rare as Italians do drink a lot of coffee, but they do so in small amounts. Italians do not have flavored coffee so you won’t find a mocha, vanilla, or some other flavored coffee. Italians do drink their coffee with a liqueur (more on that in a moment…).
At Carluccio’s, espresso is served in traditional Italian style with a small glass of water. The espresso is not extremely hot like you would find in an American coffee house. Sebastiano says that’s because Italians like to enjoy their caffè immediately – in Italy, you will likely find folks standing at the bar. Sebastiano says the locals in Italy stand at the counter since there is a service charge if you take a seat, which is often a lot more than the caffè itself.
Carluccio’s has two types of espresso – Milano, smoother and Arabica-based and Napoli – a more robust flavor with Robusta.
In Italy, Cappuccino is to be enjoyed only in the morning, never after a meal and never after 11:00 AM. Sebastiano says most Italians start their day with a mere caffè, or a Cappucino and cornetto, croissant, or another type of biscuit. This rule (okay, not really a rule, more wisdom passed down through generations) is because a cappuccino has milk in it. Milk has protein and is not easy to digest so drinking a hot beverage after a big meal attracts blood to the stomach, helping digestion. However, the beverage needs to be easing the digestive process, not slowing it down – so a water-based hot drink like coffee is ideal. And yes, this ‘rule’ applies even if you had an all-vegetarian meal or if you haven’t eaten at all and just want something substantial. Remember: The clock strikes 11:00 AM, the milk goes away.
At Carluccio’s, Cappucino is served with a very light froth and with a delicious chocolate caffè bean.
It is also not proper etiquette to order coffee before or with a meal. In Italy, coffee is seen as a way to help you digest your meal, so drinking it alongside is seen as a no-no. It is very traditional Italian etiquette to follow your lunch and dinner with an espresso. If you are in Carluccio’s, Sebastiano says simply ask for ‘un caffé’ like they do in Italy.
After dinner, Italians do order a ‘caffé correcto’ (literally a ‘corrected espresso with a splash of liqueur’). This liqueur can be anything – Sambuca, Grand Marnier, Amaretto, etc. They don’t do Frappuccinos in Italy, unless you are actually in a Starbuck’s (I queried Sebastiano on a Starbucks location in Italy and he couldn’t think of one).
At Carluccio’s, they have a wonderful after dinner drink called a Ciccolatta (Chocolate) Fiorentina which is a thick fiorentine drinking chocolate. Mine was served with a splash of Amaretto. Wow! It was delicious (I am still thinking about it a couple of days later…)!
Carluccio’s also serves a really fantastic (and authentic) ‘Bicerin’ which comes from the Torin area of Italy. It is a layered drink with the fiorentina, espresso, and heavy cream. Carluccio’s serves it the authentic Torin way.
This brings me to my favorite item to talk about for after dinner – the Affogato Coffee. This is freshly made Vanilla flavored Italian gelato served with strong espressso. You then pour the espresso over the
ice cream gelato and let it drip down through the glass. OMG, this is SO GOOD!
So, get to know the authentic Italian way of ordering and drinking coffee at Carluccio’s and if you see me there say Hi! You can find Carluccio’s menu at this link.