From a nation of tea-drinkers to the coffee aficionados of Rome, our rules and traditions are pretty well ingrained. So much so that it’s difficult for Brits to understand the Italian coffee rules. We want to savour our hot drinks, to warm us up, calm us down, ease a sore throat, help us over a shock. But in Italy the coffee culture doesn’t allow for lingering over a cup. In and out, standing up at the bar, caffeine shot inhaled. We say cafe, Italians say bar.
Before I arrived in Rome, I read a ex-pat-living-in Rome type book which advised you to choose your local bar with care. I looked around, one was too busy, one was too modern, one was too full of old men. Eventually, I plumped for the bar just opposite the Metro station. After three days of going every morning (and you must go every morning) the barista knew my order and began to prepare it as soon as I came through the door. You must pay and get your scontrino/receipt before you can collect your coffee. You must go to the same bar every morning, you must order the same drink, you must go at the same time. The conformity is comforting.
And you must follow the coffee rules. Cappuccino and caffè latte are allowed until 11am. You must absolutely NOT drink a huge calorie-filled, milky drink after a meal. They are a breakfast drink. All that warm milk sloshing around your insides is just not a good idea after a huge plate of pasta. You can see the logic. And if you ask for ‘a latte’ you’ll get a glass of milk, rather than the bucket-full of coffee-type drink the chain coffee bars give us at home.
As for tea, it’s not so much the quality that counts as the volume. How do we drink so much tea?! Former MP, Tony Benn is known for drinking a pint of tea an hour. I’ve worked in offices where tea was brewed on the hour, every hour, no exceptions. And it must be in a mug, no fancy china cups please.
When I go home I can’t cope which such a volume of liquid. It really is impossible to overstate just how much tea we get through in the north. But, I have to say that tea tastes better with Yorkshire water. Here the hard water means that kettles are full of tiny bits of calcium which float about in your tea. And it just won’t brew in the same way, it’s just not the same at all.