Italians on Italians
Beyond Toscano

The bon ton of coffee

The bon ton of coffee
 “Bon what?” we hear you cry. Bon ton is an expression used to talk about the proper way of doing something. Much as Italians have a sense of una bella figura – the art of looking sharp, they also have quite sophisticated ways of behaving, and yes, that even extends to something as everyday as drinking a coffee.

In Italy, there is no such thing as ‘coffee to go’. Partly because most coffee is served as short espresso, but mostly because people appreciate that to enjoy life, there are some pleasures that must be taken slowly – even in a small cup. Here are a few of the rituals Italians instinctively employ when drinking coffee.

Timing – be careful to order the right drink at the right time. Cappuccinos for example are usually only ordered at breakfast time, often served with a brioche or cornetto (croissant).

The cup – Coffee is usually served in a ceramic tazze, not a cardboard cup. It should sit on the saucer with the spoon resting, and the handle pointing, to the right. (Which isn’t very convenient if you are left handed.)

The sip – The saucer should be held in the left hand and the cup raised to the lips with the right. Never lean in to take a sip. The cup should be held with the thumb and forefinger only. Never, repeat, never, raise the little finger while drinking. And please, sip quietly, this isn’t noodle soup.  

The poise – Chic and subtle for the win. Don’t swill your coffee like a wine, it has no legs and would only get cold quicker. If you must add sugar, be sure to stir clockwise only with your right hand. Don’t even think about making a noise by striking the mug with the spoon.

The spoon – Faced with a difficult choice of which spoon to use? Fear not. Always go for the smallest. It shouldn’t be difficult. The only other use for a spoon that small would be to eat a soft-boiled egg.

There. That should be enough to make sure your Italian coffee drinking is more bon ton and less faux pas.