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I drink coffee. Not the mocha-frappa-soya-flavoured-whipped Franken-coffee they offer at you-know-where. Just coffee. Not the granulated instant kind either, which tastes like the water I just washed my coffee cups in. I don’t even drink filtered coffee unless I really have no other choice. I just don’t like it.

When I was 20, I was lucky enough to live in Rome for six months. My only taste of coffee before then was the very occasional taste of instant coffee, which I didn’t much like.

The family I stayed with in Rome did not drink tea and never made their coffee at home. They would walk downstairs to the local bar where they bought un caffè (espresso). They would chat with their neighbours and then we’d all be on our way. What a lovely way to start the day it was. They would almost always stop in again two or three more times throughout the day, and after dinner we would often pop back down there again for a quiet caffè corretto or perhaps digestivi.

That was my first introduction to the taste of real coffee ~ what a quiet revelation it was! I liked this coffee! I really liked this coffee!

They introduced me to the coffee rituals of Rome, and I’m so grateful they did.

Prior to that, I had no idea how to order coffee, or what the unspoken rules are… and after I left Rome I took it for granted that everyone else did too. What a surprise I was in for.

I love that you can take your dog with you into a bar. In some parts of Sydney they're not even allowed to be with you outside a bar.

I love that you can take your dog with you into a bar in Italy. In some parts of Sydney they’re not even allowed to be with you outside a café.

Did you know Italians almost always stand to take coffee in Italy? The seats outside are for smokers and the elderly, and tourists will be charged to sit there.

Did you know Italians rarely order takeaway coffee? Although to be honest I’ve been seeing it more and more often each time we go. But why would you? It’s such a lovely social thing to do… if you are a local and speak the language that is.

This is breakfast every single day I'm in Italy. Always uno cappuccio e cornetto (cappuccino and a pastry, similar to a croissant but not as buttery).

This is breakfast every single day I’m in Italy. Always uno cappuccio e cornetto (cappuccino and a pastry, similar to a croissant but not nearly as buttery).

Then there’s the whole ordering etiquette. It’s confusing for tourists but easy once you know how. First, pay for your coffee at the register. Then take your scontrino (receipt) to the barista and tell him your order. Easy! Don’t ask for a mocha-frappa-soya Franken-coffee though. You’ll get scoffed at.

My personal rule of thumb is a cappuccino first thing in the morning, perhaps un caffé macchiato (an espresso spotted with milk) after that, then nothing but espresso for the rest of the day. If we’re in Italy then perhaps un caffé corretto after dinner ~ that is, espresso ‘corrected’ with a shot of liqueur, perhaps grappa, sambuca or brandy, but lately my after-dinner tipple of favour is a glass of Vin Santo as a digestive instead of coffee.

Caffé macchiato

Caffé macchiato

At home here in Sydney, we have a fabulous espresso machine, and we order freshly roasted beans each month, which we grind ourselves before making each coffee. I like coffee from a moka pot too. And I don’t mind the coffee that comes from one of those Nespresso machines. More and more often they are supplied in hotel rooms and apartments across Italy, as they know their guests won’t drink the stale instant coffee sachets they supply. Aldi make a similar machine to the Nespresso, and some of their simple varieties are surprisingly quite good too. But nothing beats that first coffee ordered after arriving in Rome, in my favourite bar.

My (almost) local and favourite bar in Rome.

My (almost) local and favourite bar in Rome.

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Immediately after being in Rome for 6 months I took a morning flight back to England. I was so naïve. I had no idea just how addicted I’d become to my 5-a-day habit. I clearly recall coming out of the London Underground early in the afternoon with the shakes and a massive headache and (slightly desperately) searching out the first café I came across, stumbling in and ordering a coffee. I clearly remember the mixture of dismay and shock when the “coffee” came out with milk already in it – and the horror of tasting it and realising that the instant coffee they’d served me bore no relation whatsoever to the coffees I’d had in Rome. As they say, when in Rome…  😉