How to order coffee in Trieste, Italy


One of the stops in the coffee tour is the Caffè Degli Specchi coffee house, which is popular with locals. — Photos: ALEXANDRA STAHL/dpa

It's possible to get coffee in Trieste, Italy without knowing much Italian. Ordering “un caffe”, however, will immediately mark you as a tourist.

In the north-eastern Italian port city on the Adriatic Sea, coffee is more than a hot beverage. An espresso is called “un nero” (a black one), “un capo” is not a cappuccino but espresso with milk, while “un giocciato” comes with a splotch of milk foam.

If you want your coffee in a glass instead of a cup, add a casual “in b” (short for “in bicchiere” which translates as “in a glass”).

Coffee is big in Trieste, famous for its traditional coffee houses and confectioneries. On top of that, the city has a coffee museum, a coffee fair and a coffee school.

Shop windows with historic coffee exhibits, although many old shops in Trieste stand empty today. Shop windows with historic coffee exhibits, although many old shops in Trieste stand empty today.

Some 40,000sq m in the port are reserved for the import of coffee beans. The only Italian port handling more coffee is Genoa on the western coast.

According to estimates, Trieste’s inhabitants drink 1,500 cups annually on average, significantly more than in the rest of Italy.

Ten cups per day

One of the best known coffee houses in the city is the Antico Caffe Torinese near the Piazza della Borsa. It is among the five coffee houses included on the national “locali storici” list of the oldest establishments in Italy.

The marble counter and the chandelier above it date back to the cafe’s opening in 1919. The staff behind it are busy not only preparing coffee but also mixing cocktails.

Giada Balanzin, working behind the counter, says she has five cups of coffee every day, while her colleague Adel Flores needs six. Their boss, meanwhile, can make it up to 10, they say.

For Trieste, “coffee is more than a cafe, a black powder, a beverage or a daily ritual – it is part of its spirit”, the city quotes Roberto Morelli, head of marketing at Illy, on its website.

The famous Italian coffee brand was founded in Trieste in 1933. Its current boss, Andrea Illy, is said to have been four years old when having his first cup.

A quick one in between

Next up on the coffee house tour is the Caffe Stella Polare, another of the city’s five oldest establishments. Just like everywhere else in Italy, having a coffee means lining up at the counter and drowning it quickly here.

Outside at the Canal Grande, a statue of Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941) commemorates the five years he spent in the city between 1905 and 1915, including regular trips to coffee houses.

One of the cafes in the city serves close to a million cups of coffee in a year. — GEOFF GILLOne of the cafes in the city serves close to a million cups of coffee in a year. — GEOFF GILL

According to the famous pastry shop Pirona, Joyce began writing Ulysses during one of his visits there.

Today, the writer looks down from a photograph on the traditional Trieste pastries. The baristo serves them with a giocciato, an espresso with foamed milk, but doesn’t have much time for questions:

”Non ho tempo!” he yells – “I don’t have time!”

Operating the espresso machine, the dish washer and the cash register at the same time as he takes orders and sets up new trays, there is only enough time to learn that he is called Massimo and only has three cups of coffee a day himself.

Queuing for coffee

Trieste’s Piazza dell’unita d’Italia is said to be the largest square in Europe with an open view of the sea. It is also home to the Caffe degli Specchi, the city’s largest coffee house.

Opened in 1839, it used to be a favourite among the irredentists, the supporters of Italian unity. During World War II, it was turned into quarters for the British navy.

According to the owner, the cafe serves some 900,000 cups of coffee per year.

But getting one is not that simple – a long queue usually forms at the entrance. The customers are a relaxed mix of tourists and locals, elderly ladies with their dogs, young couples with suitcases, people reading the newspaper and others enjoying a white wine spritzer.

Next door awaits the Caffe Tommaseo, the oldest coffee house in Trieste, opened in 1830.

A menu next to the entrance also lists coffee varieties with ginseng or schnapps, just like in any other coffee house in the city.

The waiters sport white jackets and cloth gloves, but are much more relaxed than their clothes or the dignified interior of wood parquet, stucco, and piano music, suggest.

The Antico Caffee San Marco, the last of the five establishments, opened in 1914, is equally elegant.

Memories of better days

All across the city you will find shop windows displaying traditional coffee carts, grinders or espresso makers - but the shops behind them have largely gone out of business.

”The city seems fast and busy at first glance, but underneath everything is very slow,” says Alberto Polojac, who claims he drinks more than 10 cups of coffee per day.

Polojac owns the Bloom Coffee School, located near Trieste’s train station, where he offers trainings and classes for professionals and coffee fans alike.

The 44-year-old man grew up with the smell of coffee beans, traded by his grandfather. Most people don’t even know that coffee is a fruit, but only know the processed product sold at supermarkets, he says.

For Polojac, the one thing missing in Trieste is a large number of traditional roasting plants like the one his grandfather used to run. The city has everything it needs to make more of its legacy, he believes. – dpa

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Trieste , Italy , coffee , Italian , foodie trip


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