We’ve all been to Italian restaurants and found ourselves eyeing the dessert menu throughout our time there. There are gelatos, affogato, tiramisu and a wide array of delicious coffee beverages. Have you ever considered that many of their desserts are exploding with coffee? Here’s a bit of history.
Coffee was first imported into Venice in the late 16th century and became popular among city dwellers shortly after. Coffee quickly spread throughout Italy, with the first coffeehouse opening in Venice in 1645. These “botteghe del caffe” became popular gathering places for intellectuals, artists and the upper class. They served as venues for lively discussions, political debates and exchanging ideas. Coffeehouses soon sprang up in other major Italian cities, such as Turin, Milan and Rome, creating a coffee culture that endures today. In the mid-18th century the popularity of coffee in Italy soared with the introduction of the espresso machine, which revolutionized the coffee brewing process, allowing for a quick and concentrated extraction of coffee. This innovation paved the way for the development of espresso, the foundation of Italian coffee. Italian coffee culture further evolved in the 20th century with the emergence of iconic Italian coffee brands. Companies like Lavazza, Illy and Segafredo Zanetti became synonymous with quality coffee and significantly promoted Italian coffee globally.
Espresso and beyond
Today the Italian neighborhood coffee bar serves as the social epicenter of Italian communities, where locals gather throughout the day for their caffeine fix and a quick chat. The barista is not just a coffee maker but a friendly face and a trusted confidant. It’s common for Italians to start their day with a shot of espresso at the bar, standing at the counter and engaging in lively banter with the barista and fellow patrons. The ritual of coffee consumption in Italy also includes the concept of “pausa,” or the coffee break. Italians believe in taking a moment to savor their coffee, stepping away from their busy routines to appreciate the flavors and aromas. The pausa is not just a pause in the day; it’s a time for relaxation, reflection and socializing. It’s an opportunity to recharge and enjoy a moment of indulgence amid a hectic schedule. There are opportunities for coffee pauses throughout the day, so naturally, there are opportunities for coffee after an evening meal.
Long story short, coffee, especially espresso, is integral to Italian culture and cuisine and is featured frequently in dessert recipes. We asked Chef Trey Place, director of Michael Anthony’s Cucina Italiana Cooking School, to tell us about the coffee-filled desserts offered at the restaurant.
“We have two signature desserts made with espresso coffee,” Place said. “The first is our tiramisu, which means ‘pick me up’ or ‘cheer me up’ in Italian. It features espresso and rum-soaked lady fingers layered with mascarpone mousse, topped with cocoa and a drizzle of caramel. It’s probably our most popular dessert and has been on our menu for over 22 years.”
“A second fun dessert using coffee is our Affogato,” he said. “This literally means ‘drowned’ in Italian. It consists of vanilla gelato drowned with espresso, chocolate sauce, Kahlua liqueur and whipped cream. This is also very popular and is my personal favorite.”