Recently, an article came out from BBC regarding coffee in Italy asking "do Italians really do it better?" I am fortunate to come from a city like Seattle with such a strong coffee culture. The only other parts of the world where I sense a culture's passion for the bitter caffeinated stuff has been Australia, cities like Portland, Berlin and San Francisco. I think in Seattle it's harder to land a barista job than a coding position at Microsoft. My fondest memories of coffee in Seattle include baristas pulling a shot 6 times before deeming it just right to be served, the shops on a sunny Saturday with local pastries and cool kid music playing in the background and likewise art on the wall to match. Florence, in the beginning, was a let down in terms of finding quality coffee with cozy atmospheric vibes to match.
The coffee culture in Italy is as follows:
Coffee is taken at the bar. There are many ways to order a coffee but generally you will hear caffe macchiato (espresso with a stain of steamed milk), caffe lungo (a long pull of espresso), caffe al vetro (espresso served in a glass) and a cappuccino. It is hopefully common knowledge by know that a cappuccino is not ordered past breakfast, with meals other than breakfast or after meals. Why? Because the milk in cappuccino is considered a meal component in itself and putting it on top of savory lunches and dinners disrupts digestion. Espresso, from the meaning "quick", is a concentrated extraction of very fine ground coffee beans. Usually a mix of 2 species of coffee: arabica and robusta. Some coffee shops in Florence make their espresso from 100% arabica while some add 20-50% robusta for added depth and body. A curious fact about the robusta species of coffee: it contains a slightly higher amount of caffeine. In agriculture, this added feature of elevated caffeine levels acts as a natural pesticide. Apparently bugs don't like getting buzzed! Apologies for the pun...
I take coffee pretty seriously and so do many others- there are professional coffee tasters who have insurance policies on their palate! I find coffee fascinating because it is one of the most consumed and traded commodity in the world, next to petroleum. As a result, the way it is sourced is also of importance to me. In Seattle, there is a lot of education regarding coffee sourcing, direct trade coffee and roasting styles. So while in Florence and Italy in general there is a strong culture of coffee consumption, in the New World there is a placed emphasis on quality.
There could be a whole article written about the history of coffee and how it arrived to Italy starting with Venice and Caffe Florian, Istanbul and Eastern Africa. Did you know that the birthplace of coffee was in Ethiopia?
With all that being said, these are my picks for locations serving the best coffee, espresso, cappuccino and coffee products in general in Florence.
1. Ditta Artigianale- Ditta with all its hipster flair and brunch items reminds me of home. They do all sorts of trendy 3rd wave tricks with coffee like cold brew, vacuum, chemex, flat white and a cold coffee tonic. The decor is fresh, solid music selection, vintage feel and reminds me of an artsy hang-out. The owner's fixation with gin is no secret and the cocktails at the Via de' Neri and Via dello Sprone locations are great too. Location: Via dei Neri, 32/R and Via dello Sprone 3/5R
2. Caffe Piansa- This is the name of a local roaster that has been a staple for craft coffee in Florence for years, before Ditta Artigianale came along. They distribute their beans to locales across the city (my favorite being the caffe/bakery of Cantinetta di Verrazzano on Via dei Tavolini, 18/20-r) which are meticulously sourced and roasted, so definitely check out the map of where you can find Torrefazione Piansa beans pulled into espresso. They have their own-branded coffee bar/ caffe in Via Gioberti and there is a cook there who does probably the best lunch on that boulevard besides the street-food lampredotto stand towards Piazza Beccaria. Coffee bars/locales which source from Piansa http://www.caffepiansa.com/locali/ the bar in Florence: Via V. Gioberti, 51/R
3. Chiaroscuro- I really like Chiaroscuro because they source several different coffee beans from all over the world: Jamaica, Indonesia, Mexico, India, Colombia and more. You can pick which bean from their wall to go into your cup. They are known for having the controversial Kopi Luwak which has raised questions regarding inflation and unethical sourcing practices and coincidentally the most expensive coffee in the world. So maybe stick to normal roasts? Location: Via del Corso, 36
4. Historical cafes like Rivoire or Gilli- These are historical cafes which may not do 3rd wave coffee, but are classic establishments with centuries of history, like with Gilli. They deserve to be recognized and visited at least once to fully understand the food and coffee culture history in Florence. In the winter, Rivoire, who also doubles as a chocolatier, is a prime spot for hot chocolate, fried rice frittelle during Carnival and a traditional Italian cappuccino. The service is always polite and the staff are pretty jolly. This cafe is more for the cultural experience and for some of their baked goods. The coffee beans may not be sourced from a fair trade producer, but again they deserve respect and recognition as crucial fixtures to Florence's cafe history. The view of the fake David and Palazzo della Signoria from Rivoire is not bad either. Location: Piazza della Signoria, 5 (closed Mondays)
5. Serafini- If you are a traveler to Florence and want a slice of local Florentine life without tourists, get breakfast at Serafini on Via Gioberti in the Piazza Beccaria zone. I love the clinks and clatter of the coffee ceramics and they make a mean cappuccino and a dizzying selection of pastries to match. I like coming here for Aperitivo as they make a pretty decent Negroni with a stellar spread of snacks which is not gross. Location: Via Gioberti, 168/r
6. La Loggia degli Albizi- One of the owners here is from Naples, where Italy is said to have the best espresso. Neapolitans have a sacred relationship with their espresso culture, and are religious about drinking lots of it. This coffee bar is nice because they have a tempting case of pastries (some with southern soul, like sfogliatelle) and serve coffee which is pulled properly from quality roasted espresso beans. Location: Borgo degli Albizi 99R and there is one on Via del Proconsolo, 59/r Florence, Italy
7. Any gelateria which has an espresso machine, especially Gelateria Bondi by Vetulio Bondi. Bondi aka Triangolo delle Bermude has exceptional, Florentine gelato and also serves Caffe Piansa, Florence's first craft roaster and true 3rd wave coffee purveyors. Ask for an affogato which is essentially gelato baptized in espresso. It's one of the most heavenly combos ever discovered. Warm espresso over icy gelato...The flavors to try are chocolate and hazelnut. Location: Address: Via Nazionale, 61/red, 50123 Firenze FI
8. Dolci e Dolcezza- This is sweet place that makes a decadent selection of cakes. They serve coffee as well in a very cute, quiet and boutique atmosphere. This is a definite coffee and pastry stop for food lovers. They source their coffee beans from Caffe Piansa which prides itself in selecting only a couple bean varieties and roasting carefully in small batches. They have nominated themselves as an artisanal roaster. Location: Piazza Beccaria Cesare 8R Florence, Italy
9. Pasticceria Nencioni- Very much a classic, old-fashioned bakery and coffee bar in the Sant'Ambrogio district of Florence. They pull espresso well, even if bean sourcing perhaps isn't to my fair-trade, small batch standards, and they know how to steam milk perfectly for cappuccinos and macchiatos- which you'd be surprised how many places do tragically. The super plus is their genuinely well-done pastries that are made in house and could possibly win the prize for best budino di riso or sfogliatine (puff pastry foldovers, sometimes filled with ricotta and pear!). Location: Via Pietrapiana, 24
10. Coccole Cioccolato- This is by far one of the best chocolate shops in Florence. And they have coffee which is smooth, robust with creamy perfectly steamed milk to match. They have delectable, tempting sweet pastries at the case all with their artisan churned chocolate. A chocolate shop which serves coffee speaks for itself. Location: Via Ginori, 55/57r
I see that this turned into a sweets post, now left with a sweet craving? Did you know that we lead gelato and chocolate tasting experiences? For more information regarding private and group food tastings in Florence, contact us.