The Italian espresso is not just a shot of caffeine: it is a social and cultural ritual considered in the peninsula as a national treasure worthy of entering the intangible heritage of UNESCO.
Is a small Italian coffee, an espresso, part of our heritage?
The Italian espresso, as we know very well from the French Riviera, is a social and cultural ritual considered in the peninsula as a national treasure worthy of entering the intangible heritage of UNESCO.
Italians swallow about 30 million espressos a day, from Venice to Sicily, in porcelain cups or small glasses, with or without a cloud of milk. For them, it’s not only a solitary pleasure, it’s also a moment of conviviality.
“The espresso is an excuse to tell a friend that you care about him,” explains Massimiliano Rosati, owner of the ancient and prestigious Gambrinus coffee in Naples, who participated in the preparation of the file to include this ritual on the list of intangible heritage of humanity of UNESCO.
We drink it every day, at any time. It is a moment of sharing, a magical moment”, he enthuses.
The gleaming machine behind the marble counter whistles and shakes as the “barrista” taps the ground coffee into the small receptacle he inserts into the machine before flipping a switch to run the almost boiling water over the fragrant powder.
A decent espresso is about 25 milliliters and its “aroma should be intense and rich with floral, fruity, chocolate and toasted notes,” according to the Italian Espresso Institute, which was founded in 1998 to set the rules for making espresso in stone.
“On the palate, the espresso must be full-bodied and velvety, with just the right amount of bitterness,” it says, not forgetting on the surface “a hazelnut-colored cream tending to black, characterized by tawny-colored reflections.
The application for World Heritage status was sent by the Ministry of Agriculture to the Unesco National Commission for Italy, which in turn must submit it by March 31 to the UN agency’s headquarters in Paris.
Many Italian traditions have already been recognized by Unesco, from truffle picking to the art of Neapolitan pizza, from the Mediterranean diet to the making of violins in Cremona.
Drinking an espresso “is a rite, sacred in a way,” confirms Annamaria Conte, a 70-year-old retired teacher and a regular at the Gambrinus, located a stone’s throw from the famous San Carlo opera house and the waterfront.
Some coffee lovers like to accompany their coffee with mini-pizzas or small balls of fried dough covered in sugar, while chatting with their neighbors.
“When I go abroad, I see people lining up to buy their coffee, standing one behind the other, sometimes checking their smartphones or sitting on their own in a corner with a book. That’s not how it is here,” Massimiliano Rosati emphasizes.
“There is a custom still alive here in some parts of Naples: when you visit someone, you don’t bring a cake or flowers, but sugar and coffee,” he says.
It was Angelo Moriondo from Turin who patented the first espresso machine in 1884, but it was a Milanese, Desiderio Pavoni, who was responsible for their mass production.
The espresso quickly became very popular from the north to the south of the country, with slight nuances depending on the region: more or less long, more or less strong, accompanied by a glass of sparkling water…
At the Sant’Eustachio café, a Roman institution not far from the Pantheon, Yael Lesin-Davis, a 28-year-old British tourist, enjoys a “Moretto” espresso topped with milk foam and cocoa powder.
For the owner of this café, Raimondo Ricci, a small espresso has the power to ward off loneliness even when drunk alone: “Sometimes at home, we make a coffee, and this coffee maker keeps us company by filling a room, the house”, with an aroma that brings back “good memories” to many people.
The application for World Heritage status has been sent by the Ministry of Agriculture to the Unesco National Commission for Italy, which in turn must submit it by March 31 to the UN agency’s headquarters in Paris.
Many Italian traditions have already been recognized by Unesco, from truffle picking to the art of Neapolitan pizza making to the Mediterranean diet and the making of violins in Cremona.