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Coffee in Trieste, history of a unique tradition in Italy

Coffee in Trieste, history of a unique tradition in Italy

The combination of world-famous roasting development and the cultural passion for coffee has transformed Trieste into the small middle-European capital of this much-loved drink; it will come as no surprise then, that its citizens have also developed some original “rules” for ordering coffee at the bar: in fact, in Trieste, an espresso is called  a “nero”, while a macchiato is known as a “capo”.

Let’s now dive into the history of the relationship between this city and coffee, tra historic venues and little traditions …

Coffee in Trieste, a centuries-old story

The  history of coffee in Europe has passed through very different routes and very far from the city of  Trieste: on one hand, the very first Coffee Shops were inaugurated in Venice as early as 1600, on the other hand, it was the clash with the Turks that led to the discovery of this precious drink, first by the Viennese, and subsequently by the whole Austro-Hungarian Empire.

It was precisely this contact with Vienna that allowed the first entry of the coffee trade into the port of Trieste, starting from the XVIII century; however, it was only in the 19th century that the coffee industry started to develop in Trieste, following the inauguration of the railway, in 1857, and Porto Vecchio, a increasingly large structure ever more used to welcoming a flow of expanding maritime trade.

At the same time, the coffee trade in the city was also developing: just think that at the end of the century, there were 66 centers for coffee importing, 10 coffee roasting companies and 98 coffee shops.

The historic cafés for intellectuals

At the beginning of the 18th century, the city cafés  became meeting places and centers for cultural growth.

Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba, James Joyce, Franz Kafka are just some of the may intellectuals who lived in or visited Trieste frequently, regularly stopping off in the various cafés Caffè Tommaseo, Caffè degli Specchi, Antico Caffè Torinese and Caffè San Marco.

Not forgetting the  “Caffè Tergeste” to which Saba dedicated a whole poem:

Caffè Tergeste, ai tuoi tavoli bianchi
ripete l’ubbriaco il suo delirio;
ed io ci scrivo i miei più allegri canti.

Caffè di ladri, di baldracche covo,
io soffersi ai tuoi tavoli il martirio,
lo soffersi a formarmi un cuore nuovo.

Pensavo: Quando bene avrò goduto
la morte, il nulla che in lei mi predico,
che mi ripagherà d’esser vissuto?

Di vantarmi magnanimo non oso;
ma, se il nascere è un fallo, io al mio nemico
sarei, per maggior colpa, più pietoso.

Caffè di plebe, dove un dì celavo
la mia faccia, con gioia oggi ti guardo.
E tu concili l’italo e lo slavo,

a tarda notte, lungo il tuo biliardo.
(da La serena disperazione 1913-1915,
ora in Antologia del Canzoniere, Torino, Einaudi, 1987, p.61)

Between the heated discussions and the cozy spaces for writing, you could also sip a  good cup of coffee.

And the appeal of Trieste style coffees  for intellectuals still continues today: Claudio Magris, for example, writes about it in I luoghi del disincanto: “il caffè è l’unico luogo in cui si può veramente scrivere: si è soli, con carta e penna e tutt’al più i due o tre libri di cui si ha bisogno in quel momento abbandonati a se stessi e costretti a far conto soltanto su se stessi, a raccogliere le proprie energie e dosarle con misura; il tavolino su cui si poggia il foglio diviene la tavola di un naufrago, cui ci si aggrappa, mentre la familiare armonia che ci circonda si svuota, diviene l’incerta cavità del mondo, nel quale la scrittura si addentra, perplessa e ostinata.”

Traditions and rituals: how to order a coffee in Trieste

The strong link between this city and coffee is also highlighted in the vocabulary.

In the rest of the to Friuli Venezia Giulia region, if you ask the bartender for a “nero” you will be served a glass of red wine; whereas in Trieste, a “nero” is the first step for ordering a coffee in the right way: in fact, on pronouncing this, you will be served a simple espresso in a cup.

And for those who want their coffee in a glass?

No problem, just ask for a “Nero in B”.

Same thing for a decaf.: “deca” and “deca in B” for those who prefer decaffeinated.

The same problems could crop up for those who want  a macchiato which, in Trieste, is always a “capo” or, at the very most, a “capo in b”, for those who prefer their coffee in a glass.   

Even more confusion comes from the fact that any genuine Trieste citizen will use the term “caffelatte” if they want a simple cappuccino, while there is also the much-loved and highly popular “goccia”, which is an espresso with just a drop of milk foam.

Did you know about this local slang?

Now you are ready for a visit to beautiful Trieste!

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