The rituals of Italian drinks
As for food, even Italian drinks have rules and special moments to comply with, but conviviality is again the word... in front of a quick espresso at the cafe or during endless aperitifs before dinner.
Aperitifs, a genuinely Italian experience
Aperitif (aperitivo in Italian) is one of the most fun moments for many Italians. And with aperitif I don’t mean a quick Campari before a meal. I mean those gatherings which can last hours, in front of several Campari.
Aperitif may be compared to the British habit of a pub after work on your way home but still, is something different. It is so popular because food is served along with drinks. Once again, in Italy it's all about food.
Aperitifs are more common in the evening, just before dinner, but some lucky people have also one before lunch. Starting times vary with seasons and regions, earlier in the north and a bit later in the south of Italy
Common Italian drinks consumed during aperitifs are wine, liqueurs, soft drinks and cocktails. The most popular cocktails today are southamerican, such as Tequila, Margarita or Daiquiri. However, Spritz, a genuinely Italian cocktail, is a real match. It's made with dry white wine (prosecco), sparkling water and either Aperol or Campari.
By the way, in case you are still wondering, Aperol is an orange-flavoured alcoholic (11%) Italian drink with a mix of different herbs. Campari is more alcoholic (25%) and mildly bitter. Both are used in a variety of Italian cocktails or simply drunk with ice and lemon.
Aperol, a classic ingredient of Italian aperitives
Another famous Italian cocktail is Negroni. It consists of red Vermouth, Gin and bitter Campari. It is named after count Negroni who invented it one day out of chance, inside an aristocratic cafe of Florence. Bored with his usual Americano, he asked the barman to add Gin instead of sparkling water.
As mentioned before, aperitivo is a serious social event thanks to food, from simple nuts and crisps, up to pasta, risotto, cold cuts, bread, vegetables, pickles and much more. So drink after drink, pickle after pickle, you'll stay at the bar for hours and might make it home at some point... In this case you had the so called “long aperitif”.
In Milan aperitifs are traditional social gatherings... and meals are sumptuous. The best bars in Milan are constantly competing to organize the best known aperitivo in the city.
The special relationship between Italians and coffee
Among Italian drinks, coffee is the king. And by coffee, usually Italians mean espresso. Now, for all of you who think espresso is just a flavorless shot of black liquid, you probably didn't try it in Italy. The aroma and flavor are just divine. You don't know the real flavor and smell of coffee if you had it at Starbucks all your life.
A cup of espresso, the real Italian coffee
Any self-respecting Italian has at least one traditional coffee maker or Moka at home, and brings it along when travelling. It is part of our survival kit.
Italians may drink several espressos each day, usually at least three times: for breakfast, after lunch and after dinner. Yet an extra espresso in the afternoon or mid-morning is very common. Yes, we are so fond of coffee that we go out just to have a quick espresso and, if not in a hurry for work, a nice chat with the barman.
Italians are famous for being annoyingly demanding when asking for variations of the theme. This is true for coffee as well as pizza and everything else. Ten Italians at the counter, ten different kinds of espresso. It can be short, long, with cold or hot milk, with or without foam, or any combination! Not to mention those who want the cup warmed up with hot water before pouring coffee. Or those who prefer it in a glass rather than a cup.
Can you imagine an Italian tourist walking for the first time in Starbucks? I can, but I'd pay to see it live.
Another very popular way to have coffee is adding a bit of liquor. This is called caffè corretto (laced coffee). Liquor is usually grappa, or sambuca, or cognac. But you can find any odd combinations, including with Baileys or Vov, an italian creamy egg-based wine drink. It is not uncommon to find Italians drinking caffè corretto even in the morning.
Liquors, digestive Italian drinks after sumptuous meals
Two stylish bottles of Limoncello and Nocino
Italians are also very fond of liquors or after-dinner drinks (if your Italian grandma invited you over for lunch, you definitely need one).
Without doubt the most famous Italian liquor is
Although you can find it all around Italy, it is typical of the area around Naples, the original Limoncello being made with lemons from Sorrento. It is so appreciated because, despite having a strong lemon flavor, it is not bitter. Limoncello is served chilled in little glasses. Many restaurants in Italy offer free of charge a glass of limoncello at the end of the meal.
is another very famous liquor. It is particularly popular around Modena, in Northern Italy. It is made with unripe green walnuts steeped in alcohol. Nocino is often made at home even though its preparation requires a lot of dedication. It is mostly consumed after-dinner but can also be served with Parmigiano Reggiano or poured on ice cream.
A selection of herbal spirits at an Italian food festival
There are endless variations of sweet herbal digestives in Italy.
If it grows, you can put it on spirit basically. Famous are Fragolino Veneto (from strawberries), Gineprino (from juniper), Laurino (from Laurus tree) and the excellent Mirto, made from the myrtle plant of Sardinia.
Italians’ peculiar love for mineral water
Before you start questioning the alcoholic habits of Italians, do you know we are the first consumers of mineral water in Europe and the third in the world? Drinking tap water is quite uncommon in Italy.
Why Italians don't like tap water? It is first of all a matter of taste. Mineral water tastes less alkaline than tap water. Secondly it is also a matter of belief, mineral water is considered to be more controlled and consequently safer. We tend to drink tap water where we think water is much cleaner, like in the mountains.
Mineral water and wine are the most common drinks during meals. Beer and soft drinks such as Cola are often consumed with pizza or other savory dishes. Tea, milk and orange juice are only consumed at breakfast.
As you might notice, I didn't mention wine among Italian drinks.
By all means Italian wines do require a special space.
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