A complete guide to how Italian espresso is defined and its cultural significance

The modern Italian espresso experience remains a communal practice and is deeply embedded in daily Italian life. Italians often drink espresso in local bars, reflecting a continued preference for social drinking settings (source).

Read our complete guide to how Italian espresso is defined, answering common questions surrounding Italian espresso culture.

What is Italian espresso coffee?

In 1998, an Italian National Espresso Institute (INEI) was established to evaluate the sensory profile of an “Italian espresso” (espresso Italiano). The INEI states, “Espresso Italiano has a hazel-brown to dark-brown foam – characterised by tawny reflexes – with a very fine texture. The nose reveals an intense scent with notes of flowers, fruits, toasted bread and chocolate. Its taste is round, substantial and velvet-like. Sour and bitter tastes are well balanced and neither one prevails over the other. There is no, or a barely perceptible, astringent taste” (source).

Italian espresso is made by forcing nearly boiling water through finely ground coffee beans packed tightly into a filter, creating a concentrated and flavourful small shot of coffee. The result is a robust and rich coffee topped with a layer of crema, the creamy foam that forms on top of the espresso.

Find out more about how to make an Italian espresso here.

The crema is often considered a sign of a well-made espresso in Italy, and it is important for Italians to get this stage just right. It is created by the emulsification of coffee oils and the presence of microbubbles from the high-pressure extraction. The crema adds to the visual appeal and contributes to the overall sensory experience of the espresso. Italian espresso serves as the foundation for many coffee drinks today, and its taste can differ depending on factors such as the bean roasting origin.

Read our guide What is Italian espresso? to find out more.

A picture of an espresso coffeee

How do you make the perfect cup of Italian espresso?

Making a flawless cup of Italian espresso starts with choosing high-quality coffee beans. Carluccio’s authentic coffee beans are all roasted in Italy, allowing you to enjoy the perfect Italian coffee experience at home. The beans should then be ground finely, which is essential for creating the right resistance as water passes through. This ensures you are extracting maximum flavour. Read our guide How to make an Italian espresso for more details on how to use your espresso machine.

Alternatives to the espresso machine, such as the Moka pot, can offer a similar coffee experience. While these methods may not replicate the exact high-pressure extraction of an espresso machine, they produce a strong and flavourful coffee that's reminiscent of traditional Italian espresso.

The coffee grind for a Moka pot should be slightly coarser than what you'd use for an espresso machine but finer than for a drip coffee maker. Freshly grinding your beans just before brewing will help to enhance the flavour.

Regardless of the method, certain rules should be followed for making Italian espresso. Store coffee beans and grounds in an airtight container in a dark, cool place. Ensure you preheat your cups with warm water before pouring the coffee. Additionally, freshly brewed coffee should be consumed immediately to enjoy its full flavour and aroma, and never reheat coffee as it degrades its quality.

Read our guide How to make Italian espresso to find out more.

Enjoy a dark, exotic roast with Carluccio’s espresso di Napoli

Our Napoli espresso coffee has been blended and roasted in the traditional style of the master roasters of Naples, which is the darkest roast in all Italy using Arabica beans with a little kick of Robusta. This blend is rich, lively and well-rounded, presenting dark cocoa, smoky flavours and blackberry notes.

Our Napoli espresso beans can also be ground finely for use in an espresso machine. When ground coarse for use in a cafetiere, it can present flavours of cinnamon and cherry.

Napoli espresso coffee.

Shop our Napoli espresso coffee.

Who invented the Italian espresso machine?

The creation of the first espresso machine is attributed to Luigi Bezzera from Milan, who, in 1901, registered a patent for an innovative coffee machine. Bezzera's design included multiple group heads which allowed for a fresh cup of coffee to be brewed for a customer by "expressing" hot water drawn from a brass boiler through the compressed coffee using steam pressure. This was a significant advancement from previous coffee-making methods and set the foundation for modern espresso machines.

Bezzera's patent and innovation were quickly recognised, and he entered into a commercial partnership with Desidero Pavoni. Pavoni started producing espresso machines commercially under the brand name "La Pavoni". The first of these machines, called the "Ideale", debuted at the 1906 Milan Fair, marking the beginning of espresso's popularisation in coffee bars across Italy and beyond.

Read our guide to the history of Italian espresso here.

How to drink espresso the Italian way

Unlike in many other cultures, Italians rarely drink espresso with meals but often prefer it as a standalone treat, especially after lunch or dinner, to aid digestion and linger over the flavours. Many Italians savour an espresso while standing at the bar.

Milk-based coffees such as cappuccinos, however, are only drank in the morning. In Italy, the belief is that drinking milk-based coffees after a meal, especially in the afternoon or evening, can disrupt digestion. Italians, therefore, prefer to drink milk with coffee only in the morning, switching to espresso or other non-milk-based coffees later in the day. This convention reflects a broader Italian principle of dietary balance and the role of coffee as a social break rather than a meal accompaniment.

Find out more about how to drink Italian espresso here.

Scenic open window view of the Mediterranean Sea from a luxury resort room along the Amalfi Coast near Sorrento, Italy

Bring authentic Italian coffee to your home with Carluccio’s espresso range

At Carluccio’s, our focus on the detail, from bean to brew, reflects our deep respect for both people and produce, promising a coffee that's not just consumed but truly savoured. At Carluccio's, we're committed to delivering a memorable experience that celebrates the freshness, quality, and taste that Italian coffee is renowned for.

Our coffee beans are roasted in Italy, bringing the authentic Italian bar experience to your table. Choose between our sweet and refined Milano blend, our rich and lively Napoli blend, or our intense, creamy and full-bodied Roma blend.

Shop our full coffee and hot drink range here. For the perfect pairing with your coffee – explore our authentic Italian cakes and biscuits.

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