What to drink in Italy
Bars, like restaurants, are non-smoking.
Italians enjoy going out during the evenings, so it’s common to have a drink in a bar before dinner. It is called aperitivo. Within the last couple years, started by Milan, a lot of bars have started offering fixed-price cocktails at aperitivo hours (18 – 21) with a free, and often a very good, buffet meal. It’s now widely considered stylish to have this kind of aperitivo (called Happy Hour) instead of a structured meal before going out to dance or whatever.
Italian wine is exported all over the world, and names like Barolo, Brunello and Chianti are well-known. In Italy wine is a substantial topic, a sort of test which can ensure either respect or lack of attention from an entire restaurant staff. Doing your homework ensures that you will get better service, better wine and in the end may even pay less.
Although wine is a traditional product, beer is very common as well. Beer did not quite belong to the Italian tradition in the way that wine does, but in the last 30-odd years there has been an explosion of Irish-style pubs in every big town, with usually a huge selection of any kind of beer, ale, stout and cider, from every country in the world. Major Italian beers include Peroni and Moretti and these are usually the ones offered by cafés. If you are serious about beer drinking, there are many bars that specialize in serving a wide range of bottled beers, as well as Irish pubs and similar establishments. There is an increasing number of micro-breweries around the country. They often are run by local beer enthusiasts turned brewers, running small breweries with a pub attached.
In the Trieste region it is far more common to drink Slovenian beers and the most popular brands are ‘Union’ and ‘Zlatorag’.
A cold limoncello on a warm night. Liquor made of alcohol, lemon peels, and sugar. Limoncello can be considered a “moonshine” type of product (although usually made with legally obtained alcohol) as every Italian family, especially in the middle-south (near Napoli) and southern part of the country, has its own recipe for limoncello. Because lemon trees adapt so well to the Mediterreanean climate, and they produce a large amount of fruit continually throughout their long fruit-bearing season, it is not unusual to find many villa’s yards filled with lemon trees bending under the weight of their crop. You can make a lot of lemonade, or better yet, brew your own limoncello. It is mainly considered a dessert liquor, served after a heavy meal (similar to amaretto), and used for different celebrations. The taste can be compared to a very strong and slightly thick lemonade flavor with an alcohol tinge to it. Best served chilled in the freezer in small glasses that have been in the freezer. It is better sipped than treated as a shooter.
Grappa is made by distilling grape skins after the juice has been squeezed from them for winemaking, so you could imagine how it might taste.
Amaro: there is a wide variety of amari, a word that encompasses a wide variety of herbal liquors, also referred to as digestivo. Some can be drunk alone; some are put into the traditional espresso coffee (caffè corretto). There are a few commercial ones, but look out for traditional regional ones.
Limoncello, grappa, and amari, are usually served after a meal as an aid to digestion. If you are a good customer restaurants will offer a drink to you free of charge, and may even leave the bottle on your table for you to help yourself. Beware that these are very strong drinks.
Bars in Italy offer an enormous number of possible permutations for a way of having a cup of coffee. What you won’t get, however, is 100 different types of bean; nor will you find “gourmet” coffees. If you like that kind of stuff, better take your own. A bar will make coffee from a commercial blend of beans supplied by just one roaster. There are many companies who supply roast beans and the brand used is usually prominently displayed both inside and outside of the bar.
There are various kinds of coffee, the most popular of which are:
Caffè (known to foreign tourists as “espresso”). This is the basic kind of coffee, which is normally consumed at breakfast or after a meal.
Caffè ristretto. This uses the same amount of coffee powder, but less water, thus making it lighter because less caffeine is extracted.
Caffè lungo. Like ordinary coffee, but additional water is allowed to go through the coffee beans in the machine.
Caffè americano. This has much more water and is served in a cappuccino cup. It is more like an American breakfast coffee but the quantity is still far less than you would get in the States.
Then there are coffee drinks with milk, as follows:
Cappuccino needs no introduction. If you don’t like the froth you can ask for cappuccino senza schiuma.
Caffè latte. Often served in a glass, this is a small amount of coffee with the cup/glass filled up with hot milk.
Latte macchiato. This is a glass of milk with a dash of coffee in the top. The milk can be hot or cold.
Note: latte is the Italian word for milk. If you ask for one, what you’ll be getting is a glass of milk… and a perplexed look.
Finally, in the summer you can have caffè freddo, which is basically plain coffee with ice, “caffè freddo shakerato” (shaked ice coffee) or cappuccino freddo, which is a cold milky coffee without the froth. This list is by no means exhaustive. With a vivid imagination and a desire to experiment you should be able to find many more permutations. Enjoy!