The historic cafés of Italy aren’t just places for drinking coffee; having retained the atmosphere and traditions of times gone by, they represent the memory and identity of those times and, therefore, of a part of Italian history. Not that the coffee and treats they offer should be overlooked. They are just as popular for their identity as they are for their delicacies.
Caffè Mulassano, Turin
Caffè Mulassano is located on central Piazza Castello in Turin. It was built in Liberty style in 1907 and later taken over by an Italian couple returning from a few years living in Detroit. They were responsible for inventing the toast and the iconic tramezzino. Made with two pieces of white bread cut in the shape of a triangle with the crusts cut off, tramezzino is filled with all kinds of possible ingredients, from the classic “prosciutto e formaggio” (ham and cheese) to the more fanciful lobster tail, Barolo roast, scampi cocktail, and more.
Caffè Mulassano soon acquired a reputation, such that even the king and queen could be seen sipping coffee there.
The café has also been the location for commercials and film scenes. Go for breakfast, tea, for the sandwich of course and for aperitivo.
Caffè Pasticceria Cova, Milan
Caffè pasticceria Cova was founded as a café in 1817, next to the Teatro alla Scala, by Antonio Cova. It soon became the post-show hangout for artists, writers, musicians, professors and figures who had a prominent role in the history of Italy, such as Giuseppe Mazzini, Benedetto Cairoli, Arrigo Boito, Giuseppe Verdi and Giovanni Verga among others.
It’s located on the fashionable Via Montenapoleone, part of Milan’s quadrilatero della moda, the luxury fashion district.
Besides its coffee, Caffè Cova is also famous for its pastries and rich selection of cakes, including wedding cakes.
Caffè Pedrocchi, Padua
Caffè Pedrocchi isn’t just the most famous café in Padua, it’s one of the most famous in Italy. It used to be known as the ‘café without doors,’ because it was open without interruption, day and night, from 1831, the year it was inaugurated, to 1916. It welcomed everyone, from intellectuals and aristocrats to local residents to prestigious Italian and international guests, from Stendhal to D’Annunzio, from Eleonora Duse to Dario Fo to Lord Byron. It soon became the meeting place for students, artists, writers and patriots, and was the scene of the 1848 student uprisings against Austrian rulers.
Caffè Pedrocchi is one of the great historic cafés of Italy, continuing the tradition of Italian cafés as places where to drink good coffee and meet for discussions about politics and culture.
A must try is the famous ‘caffè Pedrocchi,’ espresso served in a large cup with an emulsion of cream and mint, topped with a sprinkling of cocoa. No sugar should be added, and that's why it's served without a spoon.
Antico Caffè Greco, Rome
The Antico Caffè Greco, located on posh via Condotti, was founded 1760 and owes its name to the founder, Nicola della Maddalena, who was a Levantine.
The Antico Caffé Greco is renowned for the many illustrious patrons it had over the years, including Stendhal, Goethe, Byron, Baudelaire, Antonio Canova, and many more; for a long time, it’s been a meeting place for intellectuals and goliards, including the ‘Group of Romanists’, an ancient cenacle of scholars and academics, enamored with the city of Rome.
With more than 300 works exhibited in its rooms, the Antico Caffè Greco can be considered the world’s largest private art gallery open to the public.
Antico Caffè Spinnato, Palermo
Founded in 1860 in the central Piazza Castelnuovo of Palermo, Antico Caffè Spinnato is perfect from breakfast to aperitif time.
Among the three best bars in Sicily according to food bible guide Gambero Rosso, Antico Caffè Spinnato offers not only good quality coffee, but also the best of the region's pastry: the classic cannoli and cassata, ricotta and pistachio cakes, gelato, cookies with almond paste, marzipan fruits.
Make sure you try the arancini with meat sauce and butter and even some traditional dishes like swordfish skewers, pasta alla Norma and eggplant rolls.