Italian coffee brands seem to be less of a cultural phenomenon and more about a religion over a beverage. If you’ve ever been to Italy - and no, a coffee house in Seattle does not count - then you know Italians take their coffee very seriously. Walk down any Italian street and your nose is bound to inhale the perfumed aroma of espresso, a scent that's as much a part of the landscape as the Colosseum.
Here, in Italy, the 'bar' is the Italian café; a social theater, a daily congregation where life's dramas and joys play out over cups of liquid artistry as opposed to our Starbuck's drive-throughs that's more for a culture always on the go. Italy, however, is less a country and more a coffee-drenched odyssey with passion into every sip.
This article brews especially for all you Italian caffè lovers out there. And there are many of you - so welcome! Savoring Italy is very pleased to host you today. We’re going to cover the major Italian coffee brands and explain what makes them oh so special.
- History of Coffee in Italy
- Features of Italian Coffee
- 5 Famous Italian Coffee Brands
- 1) Italian Coffee Brands: A Focus on Lavazza
- 2) Italian Coffee Brands: Illy
- 3) Segafredo Zanetti
- 4) Kimbo's History and Products
- 5) Vergnano's History and Products
- Adapting Italian Coffee Brands for Global Palates
- Tips for Brewing Italian-Style Coffee at Home
- Sustainability in Italian Coffee Brands:
- Want to Read More Articles About Italy? Then check these out!:
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History of Coffee in Italy
Back in the 1600s, Venice, Italy was a major port city. The Venetians traded goods with the world, and at the time, the Ottoman Empire was a dominant force that became the conduit by which coffee beans first arrived on Europe’s shores.
Believe it or not, but coffee, the beverage, was first deemed as sinful because of its connection to Islam. But it would soon get its blessing from Pope Clement VIII after he sipped it and breezed through a morning mass. Well, the mass part we made up, but the point is, we can all take a moment and thank Clement…Grazie!
Venice was very forward thinking in that day and someone had the brilliant idea to open up a shop just for coffee. Fast forward a couple of hundred years and 18th century Italy would see coffee shops popping up all over its cities.
Italians, known for their hospitality, soon transformed these coffee spaces into hangouts that extended beyond just drinking caffè. I mean, Italians gotta eat too, right?
The Caffè Florian in Venice, established in 1720, holds the title of the oldest operating coffee house in the world, a must-visit for history buffs.
The late 1800s in Italy were a time of invention and caffeine-fueled dreams. Angelo Moriondo, an Italian pioneer not content with just any brew, invented and introduced the first espresso machine in 1884, a contraption that would make Rube Goldberg proud.
Italians Luigi Bezzera and Desiderio Pavoni enter the scene, tinkerers and dreamers, pushing the boundaries of coffee science. Pavoni, in a stroke of genius, unveils the Ideale machine in 1906, a name that's as grand as its impact because it baptized the world into the cult of espresso.
Then, Achille Gaggia steps up in 1938 taking espresso, already a liquid legend, and cranking it up to eleven with high-pressure brewing which gives the brew its heavenly crema on top. Definitely a revolution in a cup.
Next, fast forward some more to the mid-20th century, and the Italian coffee scene is a bustling strada mercato of flavors with baristas (notice the word "bar" in the name?), the unsung maestros of the espresso machine, whipping up cappuccinos, macchiatos, and caffè lattes, a symphony of espresso and milk.
By 1933, Alfonso Bialetti shows up onto the scene with his Moka pot (something I use today!) yet another total revolution, this time in aluminum, that takes espresso from the Italian bar and plants it firmly in the Italian home. Soon, every kitchen is a mini-cafe, with Bialetti's invention as the aromatic star, and thanks to his caffeinated forefathers, coffee houses are part of the fabric of Italian social life bustling with chatter and the clinking of espresso cups.
Features of Italian Coffee
People love Italian coffee because it’s, well, uniquely Italian. This difference arises from the preparation method, which varies from the classic American drip brew methods. The following is a look into what sets Italian coffee into its own master class:
Serving Size and Experience
In Italy, when you order coffee at a restaurant, your waiter will most likely return with a single shot of espresso in a small cup known as a tazzina. The word, by the way, comes from the Italian word for cup: tazza.
Therefore, with tazzina in hand, Italians are more known for drinking by standing in a bar, along with a delicious side of Italian pastry.
Caffeine Content and Flavor
Most people tend to think that Italian espresso has more caffeine due to its dark color and strong taste, kind of like the unfiltered cigarettes of the tobacco world. But the amount of caffeine totally depends by how long the water spends in the coffee grounds - think French press coffee - during brewing.
Variety of Italian Coffee Types
Okay, so far, we’ve mostly talked about espresso, but the Italian culture scene includes a variety of drinks, such as:
- Caffè Americano: This is more similar to an American coffee, hence the name, that includes a shot of espresso with a bit of hot water.
- Caffè: A straight, single shot of espresso.
- Cappuccino: Equal parts of coffee, steamed milk, and foam.
- Corretto: Espresso with a shot of liquor, usually consumed as an after-dinner drink.
Roasting and Brewing Techniques (Coffee Bean Selection)
- Origin: If you read through the previous history section, it’s no surprise to learn that Italian coffee predominantly uses Arabica beans. But instead of Persia, beans today are mostly grown and come from Brazil, Colombia, and Ethiopia, and are known for their rich, well-balanced flavor.
- Roast Level: Italians are dramatic, bold, and intense (well, at least my family is) and their coffee typically reflects this in their dark roasts, providing an intense flavor.
- Freshness and Type: The preferred beans are fresh, and, depending on the Italian coffee brand, you’ll find either a variety of blends or beans of single-origins.
It takes an average amount of heat to roast Italian coffee beans, about the same temperature you’d bake a salmon, at around 400-450 degrees Fahrenheit. At this temperature, the beans flavor began to change, along with their color and texture. To achieve a robust taste, roasters roast the beans to a medium to dark level. Roasting Italian coffee beans uses the precision it takes to baking a cake; it's a scientific process. Maintaining the consistency and quality of a specific Italian coffee brand hinges on this meticulous approach so that even the slightest change in the roasting routine can lead to significant alterations in the end result, much like how a minor tweak in a baking recipe can transform the outcome of a cake.
As I mentioned earlier, my own go-to morning espresso maker is the Moka Pot. I'm not alone. It’s also a common staple in the Italian cucina. The Moka uses steam pressure to draw out the flavor of the roasted ground beans that produces the strong concoction we know and love. Meanwhile, the pour-over-brewing technique (which is becoming more popular these days) involves gradually pouring hot water over those precious coffee grounds resulting in a kind of gentle flavor extraction.
5 Famous Italian Coffee Brands
1) Italian Coffee Brands: A Focus on Lavazza
Lavazza began from very humble beginnings inside a small grocery store in Turin, Italy in 1895 at Via San Tommaso 10 by Luigi Lavazza. At the time, he may not have realized that this Italian family business would not only grow significantly but also continue to bear and uphold the family name and heritage, actively managed by the third and fourth generations of the Lavazza family.
Lavazza's Popular Products
- Lavazza iTierra: This blend is known for its medium roast. It has the badge of being a USDA-certified, high-quality organic coffee products that doesn’t skimp on offering a fragrant aroma and full flavors that’s perfect for espresso-based drinks and or other types of brewing methods.
- Lavazza Top Class: Next up is the Italian coffee brand’s 100% natural Arabica bean product. I love this one because it’s this medium-roasted coffee that has a very smooth and balanced flavor with hinted notes of milk chocolate and hazelnut flavors. It’s also totally suitable for multiple brewing techniques.
- Lavazza Qualita Oro: Then’s there’s my daughter’s favorite (the “gold” standard) which has a blend of Arabica and Robusta beans. Like my daughter’s personality, this particular coffee blend happens to be Lavazza's strongest flavor and it’s ideal for a wide range of Italian-style coffee drinks.
- Lavazza Dek Decaffeinated Blend: I’m not much for a fan of decaf, yet this blend is also top shelf as it, like it’s gold counterpart, combines Arabica and Robusta beans. However, Dek typically stands out for its sweet fragrance and balanced flavor, making it perfect for espresso lovers who want the taste but not the jitters.
- Lavazza Gran Espresso Coffee Blend: Lastly the “Gran” is a robust blend with black pepper and cocoa notes. It’s totally worthy for those who prefer rich and strong flavors.
Lavazza's Global Presence
Lavazza has a reach and a strong market presence. In 2022 the company experienced a 17.6% increase, in revenue compared to the year totaling €2.7bn. This growth stems from sales in regions, including a notable retail sales growth of 28% in Poland, 18% in Germany, and 14% in the US. The wholebean segment of Lavazzas business performed well during this period while their single serve channel remained highly competitive. Despite facing challenges Lavazza managed to sustain its turnover growth and maintain margins with years.
Lavazza operates brands within the coffee industry such as Carte Noire in France Merrild in Denmark and Kicking Horse, in Canada. With a presence spanning across 140 markets worldwide they operate nine manufacturing facilities located across six countries.
2) Italian Coffee Brands: Illy
Illycaffè, also known as Illy is an espresso focused coffee company. It was established in Trieste in 1933 by Francesco Illy, who hailed from Hungary. Since its beginnings, as a cocoa and coffee venture Illy has transformed into a global coffee brand. Francescos groundbreaking invention of the coffee machine in 1935 which utilized pressurized water instead of steam revolutionized the world of espresso technology. As a family controlled enterprise to this day the company has continuously evolved by introducing nitrogen pressurized packaging systems to maintain the freshness of their coffee and expanding their market presence across Italy and, beyond.
Illys Popular Products
Experience the robust flavors of Dark Roast Intenso, a blend that tantalizes with hints of chocolate toasted bread and caramel. It's the choice, for those seeking a coffee experience.
For a balance of flavors try Illy Classicos Medium Roast. This balanced blend delights the senses with notes of caramel orange blossom and jasmine. It offers a combination of body and acidity.
If you're looking to enjoy the taste of Illy without caffeine their decaffeinated options are here for you. They maintain the aroma and flavor profile of our Illy roast while providing a smooth and gentle coffee experience.
Illys Global Presence
In 2022 Illy achieved growth with record revenues reaching €567.7 million – the highest in ten years. This extraordinary performance was evident, across all markets and distribution channels showcasing Illys presence. Italy experienced revenue growth of 9.9% while in the United States – a market – revenue soared by 27.4%. China also witnessed growth driven by sales. The Ho.Re.Ca channel saw a revenue increase of 30.9% while the Retail channel surged by 42.8% contributing to heightened brand awareness. The Home channels experienced a 4.8% increase, in revenue in the United States while the Online channel witnessed growth of 3.2%.
Illy is an example of a coffee brand that combines innovation, quality and global presence. With its roots, in the history of Trieste and its current position as a leading coffee brand Illy has always been dedicated to providing coffee experiences. It offers a range of products. Has established a significant presence in over 140 countries. Illy continues to shape the coffee culture by combining Italian coffee craftsmanship with modern business strategies.
3) Segafredo Zanetti
Segafredo Zanetti, a known and respected coffee brand has made a name for itself in both the domestic market and, on the global stage as a top quality espresso company. As part of the Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group this esteemed brand offers a selection of coffee products to meet the needs of customers serving various distribution channels such, as bars, restaurants and large scale distribution outlets.
Segafredo Zanetti, founded by Massimo Zanetti gained fame in Italy. Quickly became a leader, in the sectors of out of home consumption and large scale retail. This early success paved the way for its expansion into markets. Today the brand is renowned for its dedication to sharing the taste, culture and preparation of Espresso around the world. By overseeing every step of production – from cultivation, to blending and roasting – Segafredo Zanetti ensures that only high quality coffee reaches consumers characterized by its flavor and aroma.
The brands dedication, to delivering top notch quality and excellent customer service is clearly seen through their standards in product offerings and exceptional care given to clients. Segafredo Zanetti offers a variety of product options to cater to preferences, including beans or ground coffee for traditional espresso machines and coffee makers convenient ESE (Easy Serving Espresso) pods, as well as capsules that work seamlessly with popular home coffee systems such, as Nespresso Original, Nescafé Dolce Gusto and Lavazza A Modo Mio.
4) Kimbo's History and Products
Kimbo originally known as Cafè do Brasil SpA was established by the Rubino brothers in 1963. The birth of this brand was characterized by the introduction of packaging techniques notably the vacuum can, which completely transformed the way Neapolitan coffee was distributed.
By 1994 Kimbo had secured a position, as the largest player in Italys packaged coffee retail sector a status it still holds today. The brands success can be attributed to its commitment to quality, tradition and effective communication strategies. A prime example of their dedication to excellence and responsibility is their production facility located in Melito di Napoli, which proudly holds certifications, for adhering to both UNI EN ISO 14001;2004 and UNI EN ISO 9001;2008 standards.
The company has consistently placed an emphasis, on delivering quality in every aspect of their operations from sourcing top notch raw materials to producing the final product. This involves blending the ingredients employing roasting techniques and ensuring optimal packaging to preserve the unique characteristics of Kimbo coffee. Research and Development are components of Kimbos expansion strategy as they strive to adapt their time honored commitment to quality to meet the needs and preferences of consumers across various occasions and preparation methods. While embracing automation for processes like roasting and blending Kimbo remains dedicated, to maintaining a touch at the core of their philosophy.
5) Vergnano's History and Products
Caffè Vergnanos story started back in 1882 when Domenico Vergnano established a coffee workshop, in Chieri. This modest beginning marked the birth of a brand that would eventually make its mark in the coffee industry. As time went on Vergnanos expertise and ambition in the coffee sector grew, leading them to expand their operations to include a coffee farm, in Kenya by 1930.
In 1955 Vergnano underwent a sort of rebranding introducing a logo that symbolized their dedication to the art of crafting coffee. A significant turning point occurred in 1970 when Carlo and Franco Vergnano took charge propelling the company from a shop, to an enterprise. Expanding further into the Food Service sector they acquired Casa del Caffè in 1986 marking another milestone in their journey.
Vergnano started expanding in 1996 introducing the culture of Caffè Vergnano 1882 to markets, around the world. A significant milestone was reached in the year 2000 when the first Caffè Vergnano 1882 coffee shop opened in Chieri with a mission to share espresso with people worldwide. The brand gained recognition in 2005 when actor Dustin Hoffman became a spokesperson showcasing Vergnanos dedication to conveying its brand essence.
In the year 2011 Vergnano made a groundbreaking addition, to its product line by introducing its Nespresso® capsule. The companys strong commitment to concerns prompted the launch of coffee capsules in 2015. A significant collaboration with Coca Cola HBC in 2022 further bolstered Vergnanos presence and growth strategy. Nowadays Caffè Vergnano remains dedicated to disseminating, advocating and nurturing the coffee culture while staying true, to its origins and embracing prospects.
Adapting Italian Coffee Brands for Global Palates
Italian coffee companies have successfully expanded globally by customizing their products to cater to the varying preferences of consumers. So rather than sticking to traditional espresso they have embraced different preparation methods and flavors appealing to diverse tastes and lifestyles, around the world.
Gruppo Cimbali, a manufacturer of coffee machines acknowledges the growing importance placed on the origin of coffee beans and the ongoing quest, for refining coffee making techniques.
This transformation is partially influenced by the emergence of coffee shop formats, such, as Starbucks, in Italy. As a result Italian cafés have become more aligned with trends. For instance Corsino Corsini has been at the forefront of introducing specialty coffee in Italy. They offer coffee experiences that delve into the origins of coffee beans and explore methods of consumption. The growing interest in specialty coffee in Italy characterized by its emphasis on quality and variety showcases this adaptation. However it is important to note that this shift remains driven more by passion than profit oriented motives.
Tips for Brewing Italian-Style Coffee at Home
When I make coffee at home I pay attention to a few important steps to ensure that I achieve that rich and authentic experience;
Firstly selecting the right coffee pot can make all the difference. It's not about the material and size. Also how it fits on your stovetop and the grind size of your coffee. Personally I prefer stainless steel pots as they are durable and don't interfere with the flavor of the coffee.
Next comes the brewing process; for every 6 ounces of filtered water I use 2 tablespoons of coarsely ground coffee. It's crucial to maintain the water temperature, between 195 205°F.. Using filtered water is a must as it enhances both flavor and aroma.
Cleaning and maintenance should not be overlooked either. I carefully hand wash each component with water. If there are any stains a vinegar solution does wonders.. One thing I never do is put my pot in the dishwasher as that can quickly degrade its quality.
And we mustn't forget about some mistakes; filling up the water chamber much or packing the coffee grounds too tightly are rookie errors to avoid. The real magic happens when you select high quality beans and achieve that crema while brewing your coffee.
Sustainability in Italian Coffee Brands:
The Italian coffee industry has been actively searching for packaging solutions that are eco friendly. This is a step, towards promoting sustainability especially considering the challenges faced in 2020 due to the pandemic. During that time there was a decline in coffee exports by 4.9% from over 1.6 billion euros in 2019 to over 1.5 billion euros in 2020.
Italian coffee brands are now prioritizing options such as paper pods, aluminum capsules and home compost alternatives for their packaging. These choices not only address concerns but also maintain the delicious qualities of the coffee itself. Moreover labels have gained significance in providing consumers with information about the coffees origin reflecting an increasing interest among consumers in understanding the products impact.
Emerging Trends in the Italian Coffee Industry:
In Italy there is a growing trend, among coffee enthusiasts who seek more than the espresso experience. People are becoming more curious, about where the coffee comes from and how it is made, which has motivated café owners, baristas and others in the industry to expand their knowledge and offer a selection of top notch coffee options.
Italian coffee brands have also been at the forefront of the specialty coffee industry showcasing a growing interest in ways of enjoying coffee such, as Nitro Coffee. This delightful cold brew is infused with nitrogen gas resulting in a refreshing experience. While the specialty coffee market remains niche in Italy it is steadily gaining traction. Notably establishments now offer top quality coffee alongside pastries and fine wines appealing to discerning customers who appreciate quality and a diverse range of options.
Moreover the emergence of coffee franchises, in Italy like Starbucks in Milan has brought forth customs of consuming coffee and has brought Italian cafes in line, with worldwide patterns. This global expansion of the coffee culture is transforming what consumers anticipate and encouraging advancements within the industry.