Art & Coffee

Literary Cafés tour

A journey through Italy worth a visit of these places that have made the history of the Italian coffee and made it famous all over the world. The historic coffee houses of Italy  are authentic institutions of hospitality, allowing you to sip a coffee while contemplating the stylish interiors of the temples of the cultural and political scenes of the 1800s and 1900s.

They have witnessed and memories left by illustrious visitors and you can enjoy this historical heritage and traditions of Italy. We want to share with you all this and have designed a tour including the most famous historical Italian coffee shops & literary cafés where you can  enjoy the charming atmosphere and … coffee!

Trieste

Trieste hosts lots of literary cafés, where James Joyce, Italo Svevo, Umberto Saba used to go.

The most famous are: Caffe Tommaseo was opened in 1830 and famous for having introduced at the beginning of the century, the novelty of ice-cream. Café Tommaseo is a bright, sophisticated and elegant place: the mirrors, which were brought directly from Belgium about one hundred years ago, the chairs made in bent wood and the decorations, which are the work of the painter from Trieste Giuseppe Gatteri, all stand out distinctively; Caffè degli Specchi (Mirrors’ Café) was opened in 1939 on the ground floor of Palazzo Stratti  in Piazza Grande (which became Piazza dell’Unità d’Italia in 1918), the heart of the city where, thanks to this special position, the Caffè degli Specchi immediately became a privileged place where to follow all the historical, political, economic and cultural happenings of the city of Trieste.

Not to miss the visit to the University of Coffee created by the most famous Italian coffee company: Illy 

“Aromas, flavours and textures, but also rituals and traditions, the wealth of a territory, the pleasure of hospitality, the work and knowledge of many people, love for ethics and for what is beautiful. This is the world to which illy has been dedicating every effort since 1933 in order to produce the best coffee nature can offer. The Università del Caffè was established in 1999, drawing upon the wealth of knowledge acquired through the company’s long history and the desire to share it with the aim of promoting and spreading the culture of high-quality coffee.”

Padua

Padua  is famous for its coffee culture, the maximum expression of which is the legendary  Caffè Pedrocchi, one of the biggest cafes in the world and was known as a favorite hang-out for Lord Byron and French writer Stendhal.  

The structure of the building is architecturally interesting because it was created from different buildings and facades which were integrated into a single, eclectic ensemble. Founded in 1831 by Francesco Pedrocchi, the coffee house was expanded by his son Antonio and the Venetian architect Jappelli to include the entire block.

The interior contains neoclassical elements and rooms with different influences: Greek, Roman, Moorish and Renaissance. Historically, caffè Pedrocchi has always been the cultural, political, journalistic and academic center of Padua.

Venice

The  Italians and their coffee. An undying love affair which began back in 1615, the year in which coffee, imported from the East by the merchants of Venice, was first introduced to Europe.  Venice  was, in fact, the first Italian city to experience the taste of coffee  and, soon became the undisputed realm of the  Botteghe del Caffè.

Founded in 1720 and considered to be the oldest coffee house in Europe, Venice’s legendary  Caffè Florian  in  St Mark’s Square, was by Lord Byron, Goethe, Rousseau, Gozzi, the Enlightenment satirist Giuseppe Parini, the writer and poet Ugo Foscolo and the poets and patriots Silvio Pellico and Giovanni Berchet, it was also here that Casanova courted his ladies. Originally was called Caffè alla Venezia trionfante, the coffee house soon became known as Caffè Florian, after its original owner and founder Floriano Francesconi.

Milano

Cafè Zucca in Galleria was inaugurated at the same time as the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in 1867 is iconic of Milan and its history, tying the culture of the Galleria to that of the Scala theater of Milan. The original liberty decoration, with its prestigious chandeliers and refined liberty mosaics with cascades of multicolored flowers and birds by Angelo d’Andrea, has been respectfully preserved by the current owner, Guglielmo Miani, who bought the coffee house in the sixties. Giuseppe Verdi, Arturo Toscanini, Puccini, Arrigo Boito and Giuseppe Giacosa would all come here to meet with other artists and intellectuals and have a drink after the show at La Scala. The coffee shop was frequented by many famous and influential people of the past, such as the Italian premier Zanardelli, Eugenio Torelli Viollier,Cavallotti, Giulio Ricordi. The monument of Liberty-style is said to have been also a favorite of King Umberto I and Edward VII of England who enjoyed to have a Bitter at the wood inlaid bar.

Bergamo

Founded in 1476, Caffè del Tasso is one of the oldest establishments in Italy. During the Renaissance it was known as Locanda delle due Spade (Inn of two swords), but in 1681 the inn took the name of the poet to whom Bergamo dedicated the nearby statue and became Torquato Tasso Caffé e Bottiglieria (Torquato Tasso Café and Wine shop). In the second half of the Nineteenth century, the coffee house was renovated in neoclassical style. Located on the prestigious Piazza Vecchia (which Le Corbusier called one of the most beautiful squares in the world, the caffè was frequented by musicians, artists, writers and famous people visiting Bergamo. Kokoschka, Manzù, Gavazzeni, Benedetti Michelangeli all loved to have a coffee here.

Turin

Turin has plenty of literary cafés and all are really charming and distinguish themselves for a specific aspect.  Turin is well known also for the chocolate and the chocolate connoisseurs have always appreciated  the cozy atmosphere of the Turinese coffee shops where chocolate delicacies and unique blends of coffee were being served. Many of these historic cafés have remained favorite among politicians, intellectuals and artists even nowadays.   You can  take our Turin’s elegant cafés: history, chocolate and coffee Tour to visit them all, we are sure you’ll love it!

Caffè Fiorio was founded in 1780 and redecorated in 1845 it is one of the few cafés that has maintained its original lay-out, with its impressive chandeliers, yellow Siena marble counters, velvet upholstery and vintage mirrors. It is located under the arcades of Via Po, between Piazza Castello and Piazza Vittorio Veneto. Beyond the historic value of the place, Fiorio is famed for its spectacular gelato cups and own blends of coffee. Caffè Fiorio was Cavour‘s favorite hangout. The place was also frequented by the Italian statesman Urbano Rattazzi and many aristocrats among whose Charles Albert, King of Piedmont-Sardinia, conservative intellectuals and insurgents, such as Santarosa, Prati, Cesare Balbo and D’Azeglio.

Al Biccerin, founded in 1763, this famous coffee-chocolate shop was originally just a small shop but in the beginning of the 1800s the place was refurbished with woodwork adorned with mirrors, while the plain tables were replaced with elegant, marbled-topped tables.  Alexandre Dumas, Puccini and Nietzsche all became regulars of this cioccolateria (chocolate shop). Its name comes from bicerin that means  “small glass”. Its fame is due to the Turinese drink famously praised by Alexandre Dumas: made of espresso, hot, bitter chocolate and whipped cream carefully layered and served in a biccerin!

Baratti&Milano was founded in 1858 by Ferdinando Baratti and Edoardo Milano as a confectionery and spirits shop and you can still see the large, colorful majolicas above the counter indicating the various types of spirits and wines that were sold here. The coffee shop was added in 1911 on the occasion of the Universal Exhibition in Turin.  Today is famous for its multicolored sweets and delicious gianduiotti (chocolate mixed with piedmontese hazelnuts) and its own blends of coffee. This elegant café was frequented by the ladies of Turin’s Gotha and by illustrious personages such as Pietro Mascagni, the author of the masterpiece Cavalleria rusticana, Massimo d’Azeglio, and Gozzano, who composed Le Golose (Sweet-toothed women).

Café Mulassano, opened in the 1850s and moved in 1907 to its current location in Piazza Castello, this charming and cozy café in Art Nouveau style, decorated in carved gilt bronze, wood and leather, was frequented by members of the Savoy family and artists from the nearby Teatro Regio.  It is famed for being used three times as a film set,   for its special liqueurs and for being the place where tramezzini were invented.

Café San Carlo was founded in 1842 is an opulent café sells excellent blends of tea and coffee, as well as cakes and candies. It was a patriotic bastion during the Risorgimento and later became frequented by artists, literary personalities and statesmen. Franceso Crispi, who organized the expedition of the Thousand (Spedizione dei Mille), Gramsci, Roselli, Giolitti and Crispi.

Café Torino, opened in 1903, is famous for beautiful Belle Epoque atmosphere with its wooden fireplaces, velvet upholstery and painted medallions.  Famous Italians such as Einaudi and De Gasperi and international stars such as Ava Gardner used to have a coffee here. The fashion of sitting outside on the heated terrace in winter was already popular here since the 1950’s.

Cafè Platti opened in 1870 was originally a shop selling liqueurs  and later became a literary café with a refined atmosphere, witness of different epochs, Louis XVI, baroque style, 1920s and Art Déco. This café was  appreciated by the founders of Fiat and Lavazza and frequented predominantly by intellectuals and writers such as Cesare Pavese.

Cafè Abrate  is an historic cafè  that still shows the original furnishings and windows from the 1920s and ’30s with its mahogany shelves, mirrors and jars of sweets, create an elegant and romantic atmosphere. In the days of the Savoys, it was the the ‘official supplier of the court’ and breakfasts were  served on a silver platter, for the princes at the Royal Riding School. Its exquisite pastries and confectionery were enjoyed by the greatest performers in the world of music at the Teatro Regio, including Puccini, Rossini and Tamagno, and well as by the leading personalities of the Kingdom of Italy: Lamarmora, Ricasoli, Rattazzi and Menabrea.

Aosta

Founded in 1886 Caffè Nazionale is housed on the ground floor of a beautiful neo-classical Palazzo that also accommodates the Town Hall of Aosta. The coffee shop includes an impressive circular Gothic hall, a vestige of the Convent of St Francis – built by Amedeus VI of Savoy in 1352 –  on which ruins the Palazzo was built. The cafè houses staged artistic performances, such as dance shows typical of the Belle Epoque. Celebrities like Ava Gardner and King Farouk of Egypt were regular visitors here, as were the left-wing politicians Pietro Nenni and Palmiro Togliatti who organized political meetings in this historic place on Piazza Chanoux.

Genova

Cafè Mangini is located in Piazza Corvetto at the end of one of the most elegant streets of Genova, Via Roma, Caffè Mangini has always been a meeting place for journalists, writers and artists. Legendary editors such as Cavassa and Pertini were habitués here.

Florence

Facing Piazza della Repubblica, there are three  important cafés that contributed to the history of  Florence and of Italy. Gilli Caffè: in 1733, the swiss Gilli family opened the Bottega dei Pani Dolci (The sweet breads Boutique) on Via de’ Calzaiuoli, which soon became a favorite among the florentine well-to-do. In the second half of the 19th century Gilli moved to Via degli Speziali, right in font of the famous Trianon, where it was patronized by Lina Cavalieri and Fregoli. At the beginning of the 1900′s Caffè Gilli moved to its current location, Piazza della Repubblica, then called Piazza Vittorio Emanuele, where intellectuals and journalists of La Voce used to meet. It soon became a meeting place for artists such as Doni, Calignani, Pozzi, Polloni, Ferroni e Pucci. Founded in 1846, Caffè Paszkowski is another florentine coffee shopwhich to this day is still a favorite hangout of intellectuals. Giovanni Papini, Ardengo Soffici, Gaetano Salvemini and even Cesare Battisti, were some of the guests of the past. Situated next to the Gilli, the Paszkowski was declared a national monument in 1991. The coffee house perpetuates the tradition of chanteuses entertaining the guests with songs, a custom that was particularly popular at the golden age of florentine literature. Both Gilli and Paszkowski face  Le Giubbe Rosse Caffè, the most famous intellectuals frequented this bar, congregating in groups depending on their cultural tendencies: you could bump into  Giovanni Prezzolini organizing meetings with his partners of “La Voce” or  Giosue Carducci.

Montepulciano

Caffè Poliziano is a delightful, elegant café-restaurant in Art-Nouveau style is located in the heart of the old town. It has been a cultural and intellectual hub since 1800, frequented by poets like Carducci, Pirandello, Prezzolini and Malaparte. Visitors from around the world come to enjoy the finest, traditional Tuscan  recipes and the beautiful view over the Valdichiana.

Lucca

Antico Cafè Di Simo is a very old café, frequented by Giacomo Pucini and many foreign artists, was originally known as the Antico Café del Caselli. Later on it was renamed Cafè Di Simo but the original furnishing and decoration in Liberty style were preserved, as were the numerous souvenirs of famous visitors.

Rome

Antico Caffe Greco is the city’s most famous coffe shop and an historic landmark café which opened in 1760 on 86, Via dei Condotti, near the Spanish Steps in a very posh area of Rome. The café was named after its Greek (Greco) owner. Historic figures including Stendhal, Goethe, Bertel Thorvaldsen, Mariano Fortuny, Lord Byron, John Keats, Franz Liszt, Henrik Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, Felix Mendelssohn, Morrissey, Wagner, Levi, María Zambrano and even Casanova have had coffee there. They says that if a cardinal takes a seat at the Greco? Legend has it that he will become pope. For Gioacchino Pecci, later Leo XIII, it certainly did.

Caffè della Pace is another historic literary cafè that worth a visit. It is located near Piazza Navona  and has three charming little rooms in a mixed style of Baroque, Empire and Art Nouveau. The outdoor tables overlook the beautiful square and church Santa Maria della Pace  A favorite haunt of painters, writers and artists, it was also here that the art movement Transavanguardia (transavantgarde, literally meaning “beyond the avant-garde”, that rejected conceptual art and sought to reintroduce emotions back into the visual arts), was coined by the critic Achille Bonito Oliva and led by painters such as Enzo Cucchi, Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente and Mimmo Paladino.

Naples

Naples  is often associated with its  love of coffee. Here, coffee is a cult drink which has been celebrated in a number of  songs, films, and in hilarious sketches  performed by great Neapolitan comic actors such as  Edoardo de Filippo and Totò. It will perhaps come as a surprise to discover that the consumption of  coffee in Naples  on a large scale began only in the 19th century with the arrival of the ”caffettieri”, itinerant sellers who roamed the streets at dawn with flasks of coffee, a basket of sugar, and coffee cups. In the same period the  first “caffetterie”, modeled on those already present in other Italian and European cities, were opened in the city. The  Gran Caffè Gambrinus, situated right in the center of  Naples and adorned with artworks by some of the greatest artists of the time, is perhaps the most famous of these coffee shops. Gambrinus is also famous for having enlivened the evenings with the ‘sciantose’ (chanteuses)  making it the most prestigious living room of Naples and bringing the brilliant joy de vivre of literary cafés of Europe’s first ‘900. Caffé Gambrinus is a literary café with magnificent belle époque-interior. Gabriele d’Annunzio wrote the text of de Neapolitan song A vucchella here. Benedetto Croce, one of the main Italian Hegelian philosophers and most active antifascists intellectuals met here with other intellectuals, journalists and politicians who were active on the cultural scene of those years and chose Gambrinus as their meeting place.

Art & Coffee Tours

Choose your favorite !

  • Tuscany’s Literary Cafés: Florence, Lucca, Montepulciano
  • Turin’s elegant cafés: history, chocolate and coffee: Fiorio, Al Biccerin, Mulassin, Baratti&Milano, San Carlo, Torino, Platti, Abrate
  • Art, Coffee and more: Trieste, Padua, Venice

Coffee | Short History

A great contribution to the diffusion of the beverage was obtained by the spread of Islam in North Africa, Europe and South Asia, first under the expansionist policy of the Ottoman Empire, and later thanks to the development of trades favoured by voyages of discovery.

Venice, more than the other sea towns, was “the Eastern market”; in its port docked European vessels coming from the Arabic and Asian countries. Coffee soon found its way there, and could rapidly be found in plenty. Venetians were the first, thus, to leam to appreciate this beverage. At the beginning, however, the price of coffee was very high, and only rich people could afford to buy it, since it was sold only at chemist’s shops.

Coffee became thus the object of trade and commerce. In consequence of travellers’ reports, some premises open to the public began to appear in Venice, too. Here they served a beverage which was by now making everybody curious! In 1640, the first “coffee shop” opened in Venice. Others followed in many Italian towns, among them Turin, Genoa, Milan, Florence, Rome and Naples. By 1763 Venice numbered no less than 218 outlets!

Coffee | Quick Italian Vocabulary

  • caffè (espresso)—a small cup of very strong coffee, i.e., espresso
  • caffè Americano—American-style coffee, but stronger; weaker than espresso and served in a large cup
  • caffè corretto—coffee “corrected” with a shot of grappa, cognac, or other spirit
  • caffè doppio—double espresso
  • caffè freddo—iced coffee
  • caffè Hag—decaffeinated coffee
  • caffè latte—hot milk mixed with coffee and served in a glass for breakfast
  • caffè macchiato—espresso “stained” with a drop of steamed milk: small version of a cappuccino
  • caffè marocchino—espresso with a dash of hot milk and cacao powder
  • caffè stretto—espresso with less water; rocket fuel!
  • cappuccino—espresso infused with steamed milk and drunk in the morning, but never after lunch or dinner
  • granita di caffè con panna—frozen, iced beverage (similar to a slush, but ice shavings make it authentic) and topped with whipped cream

Art & Coffee

Italy is known the world over for its monuments beauty, art, fashion, food and wine but also for coffee. In particular, for being able to give this drink a position so important and at the same time frivolous. The preparation coffee is an art, an Italian art. 

Capuccino! Croissant! Espresso! Are typical words that you hear when you walk into a coffee bar in Italy … it’s not a joke, it is an ancient atmosphere and passion that brings its traditions all over ltaly. Coffee is a great invention, based on the art of processing and blending it, a specialty that has become a typically Italian tradition! The history of coffee, the “black bevanda”, as it was once called, was born in Venice at the end of ‘600. The “coffee shops” become, in the eighteenth century, places where you could not only enjoy delicacies such as chocolate and coffee, but also public spaces where intellectuals would meet: literary cafés. Hence the idea of ​​Florian, the oldest café in the world, together with the Procope in Paris, to marry, once again, the tradition, made of quality products and service sought, culture, in particular contemporary art. In Italy as well the literary cafés were an important reality in the Italian society and culture, and not just Italian. So, the historic literary cafés became famous as Pedrocchi of Padua, the Redcoats of Florence, Bagutta of Milan, Aragno  and Rosati of Rome, Florian in Venice to name just a few. Their fame was due not only for the frequenters, but also for the location, atmosphere and palaces where most of them are hosted.

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