Updated: Sep 27
Ever heard of an espressino? Didn’t think so. Puglia has a coffee culture all its own and it’s worth learning about- then experiencing yourself.
It’s no secret that coffee and Italy go together- like really, really well. From a foamy cappuccino in the morning to a double shot of espresso (caffe doppio) in the afternoon, caffeine seems to be pulsing through the veins of this expressive and lively society.
What you might not realize is that caffeine flows in a variety of more creative forms outside of the typical espresso that usually comes to mind. Although you won’t find the fancy “frappuccinos” and “caramel iced soy lattes” of Starbucks (which, yes, has recently opened in Italy), you will be surprised by the variety of specialties to discover!
#1 – Espressino
Starting with a specialty from the southern region of Puglia specifically, an espressino, called un marocchino in the rest of Italy, is espresso topped with a layer of cocoa then foamed milk on top. Think of it as a tiny and proportionately concentrated cappuccino.
Pro tip: Italians never drink coffee with milk after around noon.
They consider warm milk to be upsetting for digestion.
However a gelato is perfectly fine, go figure!
#2 – Caffè Leccese, also known as Caffè alla Salentina
This sharply sweet and refreshing drink originates in Lecce, the Baroque capital in the southern Italy. It lovingly combines the locals’ love for coffee with one of the region’s main products: almonds— specifically, almond syrup or latte di mandorle. The nonni and nonne will sometimes call it a San Nicola because the Festa di San Nicola in nearby Bari celebrates the season of almond syrup.
The drink arrives with a shot of espresso in one glass and ice and almond syrup in another. Gently pour the espresso over the ice and as the black espresso swirls into the white syrup, prepare your taste buds for a real Pugliese treat!
#3 – Caffè al Ghiaccio
Who knew that Italy had its own version of iced coffee? Caffè al Ghiaccio is simply espresso over ice, perfect for those hot August days along Puglia’s gorgeous coast. This is popular mainly in the south because they make fresh hot coffee and pour it over cold ice rather than simply using old coffee that has cooled down.
#4 – Espressino Freddo
Sounds straight forward in its translation, “small cold espresso”. However, this coffee-flavored specialty actually features a delicious twist. It’s made by creaming sugar, ice, and espresso until cold and frothy- then it’s stirred into panna, which is whipped cream deliciousness. It’s almost like soft-serve coffee ice cream, but not quite. To take it to the next level (and I highly recommend you do), the barista will coat the inside of your glass with your choice of chocolate, nutella, or caramel- but the local favorite, is Borghetti (a coffee liquor).
#5 – Caffè al Ginseng
Perhaps the most unexpected beverage to discover is the Caffè al Ginseng. This oriental and western blend is seen as a healthier energy boost because of ginseng’s ability to calm the central nervous system and stimulate mental activity. It doesn’t taste quite like coffee or ginseng either one. Instead, it takes on a rich, nutty flavor that is surprisingly delicious. Sometimes it comes blended with espresso and other times it’s just a creamy and sweet Ginseng drink without the coffee altogether.
#6 – Caffè Speciale
In the cliff-clung town of Polignano a Mare in Puglia, the Caffè Speciale was invented at a typical little caffe called Il Super Mago del Gelo Mario Campanella. What makes it so special? It’s a delicious blend of coffee, sugar, lemon zest, cream, and homemade amaretto, served warm in a glass! The caffe is located right across the street from the grande entrance to the historic center and has been there since 1935, making their caffè speciale a great way to soak in the culture and history of this fantastic town.
#7 – Caffè Shakerato
For a fancy twist, try caffè shakerato which is coffee shaken in a tumbler with ice before serving. It becomes super frothy and creamy even though there isn’t actually any cream in it! This chilled version is great for hot summer days.
If it’s your first trip to Italy, start with the basics. Learn to appreciate the full-bodied flavor of straight espresso as this is still the most popular way locals get their kick. Move slowly through this list, lingering over surprising favorites and trying the variations of each. Let the warm, bold flavors settle into your soul as you discover just how diverse coffee time in Puglia can be!
Comment below to let us know which coffee drink you’d want to try first!