Sunday, August 06, 2006

Bar – Coffee anyone?

Italy’s economy is structured differently than the US. The US is based on mega corporations that offer the same mediocre product or service at the same price across the country. Italy’s economic infrastructure is more fragmented with 80% of GDP created by small or micro businesses, many being family owned and operated. Businesses are identified by sector and are usually very specialized. To be able to find the products and services outside of the traditional touristy shops it is important to understand what these are.

The Bar, is not the bar here in the US. The primary product sold by a bar is caffe’, or coffee, more specifically espresso. A bar, located in a big city, will easily prepare tens of thousands of espresso a day. This is one of the reasons why the espresso at the bar is so good. Outside of a good espresso the bar will also offer breakfast breads, various wines and liquors, quick lunch dishes and panini, and sometimes pastries. Most bars will also provide finger foods or nuts for a before dinner aperitivo between 5:30 and 7:00 pm.

Coffee is an important part of Italian life, it is consumed for breakfast, at morning and afternoon breaks, and after meals as a digestive. Thus you will find bars every few hundred feet in populated areas. Small bars will allow you to order and consume paying on the way out. Larger bars may require you to pay at the register before ordering. When a bar has tables, if the tables have tablecloths, you may sit at the table and a waiter will come. Things will cost more but you will be served at the table. If you order at the bar do not sit at a table with a tablecloth unless they bartender indicates for you to do so.

One thing an Italian bar is not, is Starbucks. Even though Starbucks was modeled after the Italian Bar, please do not ask for a “Frapamokaimanidiot” in an Italian bar. Coffee is normal or decaf. It can be:

Doppio – This is actually two espresso not just more water
Corto or Ristretto - very little water
Lungo - a lot of water
Americano – they will bring an espresso with a pot of hot water and a tea cup
Corretto - spiked with grappa or cognac
Capuccino - espresso with foamed milk
Macchiato Caldo – with a hint of warm milk, no foam
Macchiato Freddo – with a hint of cold milk
Latte Macchiato – Warm milk with just a hint of coffee in a tall glass

Bars do not have fake milk, half and half, non-dairy creamers or soy milk.

You may purchase liquors, wine or beer 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There are no blue laws. There are no limits on the legal age of drinking. Bars will not serve alcoholic beverages to kids but it is the discretion of the owner, so if you have not taught your kids how and when it is appropriate to consume alcohol you may want to keep them on a close leash.

It is customary for Italians, even when not accompanied, to stop in a favorite bar after work for an aperitivo. Most Italians will have their favorite bar so if you are meeting Italians you may want them to take you out for a before dinner drink. Usually aperitivo will be, Prosecco, Pinot Grigio, or Campari. Most bars will prepare mixed drinks but it is not Italian custom. If you do drink, say a Martini, go slow, remember that dinner will include wine.

If you want American coffee your hotel can usually provide that. If the hotel coffee is not what you are looking for and you really need an American coffee fix, there are two Dunkin Donuts in Rome and one in Milan.


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Blogger ChickyBabe said...

I found myself nodding at every word, especially the fake milk and serving alcohol to young ones. As for American coffee, I can never forget the man who caused a row by insisting on a decaf much to the embarrassment of everyone around him. Ah memories...

3:29 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Unfortunately, this article is from actual experience. Too often, when out to breakfast with my kids some tourist would get into a huff because he could not have is soy milk... and individuals wanted to sue someone because their 18 year old son came back to the hotel souced after a night at the disco.

6:16 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed the coffee / pastry bars we tried while in Rome. I made sure that we hit them at least once or twice a day while we were there. We ended up buying a couple of bottles of wine to take home from one of them :) Such a refreshing change from the Starbucks on every corner.

6:55 AM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Jennifer I think we are slowly moving away from the McDonalds mentallity. I look forward to finding quality products and service at a reasonable price again, perhaps I am a dreamer, but I believe that our financial market induced superficiality is slowly eroding!!!

Here is to the "Return of the Artisans!"

7:34 AM


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