Trieste has a long association with coffee drinking and production. During the first World War, Hungarian Francesco Illy arrived in Trieste and in 1933 formed his company, the now world famous Illy Coffee, still based in Trieste and run by the Illy family.
Even before Illy arrived though, this aromatic beverage had been very much appreciated. Today you can still find historical caffès in Trieste which first opened for business in the 19th century. Many caffès of the time were in the Viennese style and had strong connections with the literary and artistic worlds. If you’d like to step back into another era whilst enjoying a great coffee, a visit to one of these historical caffès won’t disappoint.
Caffè Tommaseo is the oldest, dating from 1830. It sits in Piazza Tommaseo where a plaque on the outer wall declares the caffè as “the centre of the national movement from which spreads the flame of enthusiasm for Italian liberty” placed there in 1848 during the period in which Trieste was part of the Hapsburg empire:
“Da questo Caffè Tommaseo, nel 1848, centro del movimento nazionale, si diffuse la fiamma degli entusiasmi per la libertà italiana”
Another curiosity of this caffè is that it is said to have introduced gelato to the city.
The interior of Bar Torinese (1919) on the corner of Corso Italia and Via Roma is reminiscent of a luxury liner as it was fitted out by the ebonist Debelli who also furbished the celebrated transatlantic ships il Saturnia and il Vulcania. Come and enjoy their featured coffee of the month.
The splendid Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia is europe’s largest city square opening onto the sea. It is often referred to as “the living room of Trieste” being at the heart of daily public life in the city and it’s here that we find the equally splendid Caffè degli Specchi (1839). This very position in the main piazza meant that it became the place to be to follow political, economic and cultural events. This caffè is absolutely the height of elegance and on a sunny day it’s the perfect place to enjoy your coffee at a table in the piazza and watch the world go by with fine architecture all around you such as Giuseppe Bruni’s municipio (town hall) with its arcades at ground level and central clock tower which heads the square. Along with the architecture there is also the Fountain of the Four Continents created by Mazzoleni between 1751 and 1754 to admire. The fountain represents the world with 4 statues whose features recall those of the people of each of the 4 continents known at the time; Europe, Africa, Asia and America. Unfortunately in recent times the fountain has been vandalized. At various times 3 of the 4 statues have been damaged, the statue representing Europe being the only one spared. Most recently, in 2008, the statue representing Africa was decapitated during the night, leaving the head resting on the body. Restoration, however, was completed in 2009.
Bar Urbanis (1832) was refurbished 6 years ago but the mosaics inspired by the Roman ones in Aquilea are original. When you head towards the bathroom, you’ll find framed copies of the newpaper article about the restoration and various historic documents detailing commercial transactions from the caffè’s early days.
Caffè Pasticceria Pirona (1900) with it’s liberty style windows and original fittings was one of the caffès frequented by writer James Joyce who, between 1910 and 1912, had a house in the same street. It was never one of the typical “literary caffès” but a place to come for a sweet treat and it remains today an important meeting place for the people of Trieste. Don’t forget to try the hot chocolate if you visit (nothing like the liquid milk and cocoa version we have in England, but rich and thick enough to be eaten with a spoon rather than drunk) – it’s been voted the best in Italy!