For Italians, the bar is an opportunity to take a break, the way to start the day right or meet a loved one at a table to catch up. The bar is a favorite place for breakfast lunch or for an aperitivo. There are nearly 150,000 bars/cafes in Italy, and hence represent a strong economic sector. They are mostly small business owners with an average annual turnover of about Euro 450,000. Given that the average ticket size for breakfast is Euro 2.50, the frequency of the customer visit is key. Hence, most bars have their regular customers, and look well after them.
"Un caffe e un cornetto, per favore": is the standard request for an Italian when entering a bar for breakfast. For lunch, it usually is a tramezzino, an appetizer or a first course. Many bars and cafes open for breakfast at six in the morning and close after midnight. At the bar, many Italians eat breakfast, have coffee in the middle of the morning, sometimes eat a sandwich during the lunch break and after lunch take a coffee. And before dinner, it is traditional to have the aperitivo in a bar and after dinner, especially in summer, an ice cream.
Although the bar is the place where Italians have breakfast, in some regions, they also function as a meeting place. In the small towns at the bar you play cards, read the newspaper while drinking coffee, have a chat with friends and talk about business. Finally, in some bars, many Italians love to meet to watch sports programs broadcast live on television, as it so much more fun to share joy or tragedy (especially for soccer matches).
The bar in Italy - an important indicator of public opinion
The bar in Italy is still the place where opinions are originated or formed. Politics as a common topic for discussion, surprisingly beats soccer.
But why do people go to the bar? Italians feel that it is a place they can chat about everything and are free to express their opinions. Also it allows them to get away from the hectic pace of work or simply to have chat with friends. Surprisingly, only a third of Italians go to the bar exclusively to eat or have a drink. Therefore, due to this social importance, the bar still represents a true reflection of public opinion, more than TV, radio and any other media.
What are the times of day when the bar is most popular and what type of customers are the regular ones? Among the most important moments of the day at the bar, is obviously breakfast, usually the locals who always know everything about everyone in the neighborhood are there, then the ones who are the super-informed, who read all the newspapers and talk about everything. In addition to breakfast, another cult moment is the 'working lunch break', during which the bar is filled with 'businessmen', people who only talk about their work and think exclusively of business. Later in the afternoon, workers or office people from the area meet up for an aperitivo in the bar.
The history of the Italian Cafe and Bar
Already in 1500 in the Middle East, there were places where coffee was prepared "Turkish" and in front of the steaming cups, artists and businessmen met. Then imported to Europe by the Turks in the seventeenth century, when in 1683 they besieged the city of Vienna, this new trend began to spread from Austria.
To see the first “cafes” in Italy you have to wait until the 18th century when in Venice, not surprisingly a commercial port frequented by Turkish merchants, the famous Caffè Florian opened in 1720. Even Carlo Goldoni, in his work “The coffee shop” , mention these new places by describing their moments and atmospheres.Pedrocchi of Padua (1722), Gilli in Florence (1733), Greco in Rome (1760), etc. will follow. The rest is history.....
In Italy, however, the use of the term "bar" differs significantly from the term in English-speaking countries. As in Italy, it is an indicator for the two brass bars placed at the counter, that still divides the bartender and his work from the customer. The term was used as an acronym for "Banco A Ristoro". An Italian entrepreneur, Alessandro Manaresi, seems to have used the word "BAR" as a shortcut (and probably also invented it). Thus in 1900 the term "cafe" began to disappear in favor of "bar", establishing itself in the collective mind of Italians. Over time, starting from the second post-war period, from an elitist place it became more and more popular: not only politicians, actors and artists gathered here, but also people from all walks of life.
With the years of the economic boom in Italy, between 1950 and 1960, the rhythms of life and with them also habits changed: Italians all rushed to work and the time to dedicate to breakfast at home seemed to decrease more and more to the point of enticing people to go to the right bar for a quick espresso and then dash to work.
What makes a top Italian Bar?
So how does a bar become a quality bar or café in Italy? The key criteria is obviously, the quality of the coffee. But that alone is not enough. Another essential condition must be met which is the sum of various factors that makes the difference: taste, experimentation, service, customer care. The value of experience: the bar must have a unique, memorable and unique experience. The key ingredient is the coffee blend chosen, and then how it is prepared by the barrista - with care and professionalism. To become a barrista requires technique, expertise and precision. Factors that cannot be improvised. It means knowing the journey of the coffee bean from the plantations to the cup, and therefore aspects of botany, agronomy, chemistry, physics and the complex production process that leads to that perfect espresso.
Each year, the Gambero Rosso decides on the best bar in Italy. For 2019, the voting took place at the St Regis Hotel in Rome on the 25 September. Each bar was judged on the quality of the coffee, the gastronomic offer and the level of service experience at the bar. The award winning bar of the Year 2019 - chosen by a jury of experts was -La Pasqualina di Almenno San Bartolomeo.
In summary, it is almost impossible for an Italian to give up a coffee offer or end a meal without an Espresso. It is considered the best way to start a day, find energy, recharge and even take a break and relax. It is something to offer with pleasure to other people. With its low cost, it perfectly solves the Italian social custom of offering a drink at the bar. It is also a way to do good: in Naples it is customary to leave a paid coffee at the bar counter to offer an espresso anonymously to a next patron who cannot afford it.