You could be forgiven for thinking that the Italians invented coffee. They have certainly made it their own by naming all the various ways to drink it: cappuccino, espresso, macchiato, caffé latte. But actually coffee beans as a source of energy were first noted in Ethiopia in the 13th century.
From there the drink spread to Egypt, Yemen, and eventually through the Middle East and into Turkey. The close trading between Turkey and Venice in the 16th century brought coffee to Venice, and it was here that the Italians first learned to love the coffee bean – with the Pope giving his approval for Catholics to imbibe in 1600.
The oldest café in Rome is Caffé Greco, established in 1760. Even today they use the same orange cups – well, probably not exactly the same ones, but the same design. Right in the heart of Rome at 86 Via dei Condotti, the café has atmosphere and history, historic paintings in ornate gold frames line the walls, and there are benches of sumptuous red velvet and small round tables in dark wood. Sipping a coffee here makes you feel you could be living in any of the past few centuries.
But don’t think this place is a dated time capsule. Caffé Greco is a vibrant part of modern Rome, with the locals popping in to drink their morning espresso to fuel them throughout the day, or spend a moment longer over cappuccino, a pastry and the morning newspaper. You’ll notice most of them standing at the bar to take their coffee because the price is higher if you sit at a table, and anyway most Romans have their regular espresso bar and like to exchange news and views with the barista to start the day.
Some Italians will say you must never drink cappuccino after midday – it is a breakfast drink. And they also insist that after an evening meal you may only drink an espresso. Perhaps that’s why Italian night life is so lively.