Sharing a coffee at home with someone else is always a precious moment. Whether it’s in the morning, in the afternoon, or at the end of a dinner, it is a pleasant way to spend a quality half hour with the people you care about. Drinking coffee is a real ritual in Italy, thus, it’s no surprise that enjoying it at Italian homes involves its own etiquettes. This etiquette is considered a full expression of the art of entertaining, and it’s truly meant to put guests at ease and make them feel pampered at your home.
Below we have collected the main tips on how to be a good coffee serving host according to the Italian tradition; from the place of service to the method. It’s important to remember that everything starts from the choice of good quality espresso coffee and how to properly prepare this beloved elixir. After all, trying to enhance the coffee drinking experience by using bad quality coffee will just be a waste of your effort, whether you’re in Italy, in Canada or anywhere else in the world.
In Italy, it is customary to offer guests coffee after a meal. It is normally served in the living room, preferably at a different table from the one where the meal took place. It could be the largest table, like the one often reserved for formal lunches and dinners, or at the coffee table, with the coffee tray usually placed in front of the sofa or armchairs.
The difference lies in whether an espresso machine - now can be found in many Italian homes - or the ubiquitous stovetop espresso maker is used. In the first scenario, the coffee is prepared in the kitchen and brought to the living room in individual cups - preferably pre-heated to eliminate the risk of serving the guests cold coffee - and then placed on a tray. If it is made with the moka pot, then this will be placed on the tray, together with the empty cups. The coffee is then poured by the host for the guests.
The etiquette dictates that the tray must contain: the coffee pot (if used), the cups on their respective saucers, the coffee spoons, the sugar bowl with its appropriate spoon, and a little jug of cream or milk. Italians take pride on their appearance, therefore the best espresso coffee cups and saucers and other coffee accessories would be used for this event. If there are numerous guests, two trays can be used, one with just the cups and the coffee pot and the other with the rest of the accompaniment.
Proper Italian etiquette calls for the host to serve the guests by pouring the hot coffee into the cups in front of them and adding sugar if desired. The cup is offered, one at a time, complete with its saucer and teaspoon, positioned on the handle side. Once the drink has been received, the receiver will mix the sugar - if using - moving from top to bottom, without making clinking noise, as required by general etiquette. Coffee is then drunk by bringing the cup to the mouth and holding the saucer in the left hand (or right hand if the guest is left-handed).
Coffee time can be made even more convivial by combining the drink with biscuits, chocolates or little pastries placed on a separate tray. These chocolates (preferably dark and in individual servings), unlike in a coffee shop or a restaurant, are collected in a basket, because the guest may want to taste more than one. Pastries, if served, are preferably dry and not filled with creams or jams for ease of consumption. If there is a cake, single portion plates are brought to the guests with their respective forks. Important: it’s always the host who cuts it into slices and serves it.
Italian hosting etiquette does not allow the host to offer its guests another serving of coffee, unless the guest requested it. Should this happen to you, consider it a sign of appreciation for having prepared and served a great cup of coffee and being a great host. Complimenti!