We all love coffee, and nowhere is it more loved than in Italy, where coffee is a way of life.
In Italy, you’ll find a bar (make that several) on every street, catering to people’s mid-morning, post-meal or late-afternoon coffee needs. However, unlike in most countries there’s no fanfare here, no fancy hazelnut Frappuccino with non-fat cream. Here it’s just coffee. Absolutely necessary, and without frills.
How to Drink Coffee in Milan
This may come as a surprise to some, but there are rules for coffee. Italians are picky, especially when it comes to food and drinks. For example, ask any Italian: a tiramisu without the sprinkle of cacao on top does not qualify as tiramisu. This attention to detail also applies to coffee, through rules that are so seemingly obvious to Italians that they see no need to verbalise them.
The rules are as follows. Milky coffees – for example, what we call latte and cappuccino – are generally to be imbibed only in the morning and not after 11am, the argument being that milk is harder to digest and shouldn’t be taken later in the day. Such coffees should definitely not be ordered after a meal; if they are, the most likely result will be a barely visible flicker of disapproval among your Italian companions.
Meals should be followed with a small coffee, such as an espresso (caffè in Italian) or a caffè macchiato (an espresso with a splash of milk). Italians never drink coffee with their meal, nor does anyone get takeaway coffee. Instead, you might see a barista holding a tray of coffees and walking down the street, delivering them to a nearby office.
Finally, coffee isn’t to be lingered over for hours at a cafe while you gossip with your friends or read the latest bestseller. It’s to be drunk standing at the bar, and should never take you more than a few minutes to finish. Shouting out your order to the barista, even if he has his back to you, is perfectly acceptable behaviour.
Where to Go For Milanese Coffee
Like every city in Italy, Milan is full of small bars where you can enjoy a quick coffee of a consistently high standard. However, Milan stands out for its excellent design, which pervades everything from its architecture to its fashion, and which also makes for some truly elegant and memorable places to stop for a coffee. We’ve listed our favourites below.
Pasticceria Marchesi is an institution. Founded in 1824 by the Marchesi family, the building itself is from the 700s and preserves an atmosphere of old-world elegance, with features such as a decorated coffered ceiling and a bar from the 900s. After lunch you’ll have to queue among suited men from the nearby Piazza Affari (stock exchange) for a coffee at the bar, but it’s worth it. They also sell some of the best panettone in town. In 2014 Prada, those purveyors of good taste, purchased Marchesi.
Pasticceria Cova is a regular haunt for those in the fashion world. This is a place to enjoy a coffee under chandeliers, served by bow-tied baristas. It is one of the oldest bars in Milan and, as the story goes, was founded in 1817 by Antonio Cova, a soldier of Napoleon, and quickly became a meeting place for artists, writers and musicians. After bombing in World War II the cafe was moved to its current location in Milan’s quadrilatero della moda (fashion quarter). It has since been bought by LVMH, the group that owns Louis Vuitton, Céline and Fendi, and has franchises in Asia.
Bar Luce at Fondazione Prada is very much the new kid on the block, with the cultural space on the site having opened its doors earlier in the year. Bar Luce is noteworthy for its design more than its coffee (which is still of a good quality). The space was designed by film director Wes Anderson, who is said to have taken inspiration from famous Milanese landmarks and cafes around the city and combined it with the retro stylised set design of many of his movies. In fact, characters from his movies are featured in themed pinball machines along the wall.
Pasticceria Pave Milano
Pasticceria Pavè Milano is for those who might be desperate for one of those ‘buy a coffee and stay all day’ kind of places, which while not traditional are a growing trend in Milan. This is a bakery-cafe started by friends, where you can sample some house-made chocolate and delicious breakfast treats as you finally dig into that bestseller you’ve been waiting to read, in a hip living room setting.
Best Time to Visit Milan
Time of Year: Popular events include the Salone del Mobile (a furniture design festival, which has free events throughout the city) and Expo Milano 2015, which focuses on food and runs until the end of October.
Where to Stay in Milan
Image Credits: Getty Images