Heading to Italy is a pilgrimage for coffee lovers. When I started really getting into coffee, I read a few books by Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz about how he was inspired by a trip to Italy to bring that espresso culture back to the states.
Of course a Starbucks these days doesn’t really represent that culture, but the inspiration was there nonetheless.
Despite not even knowing at the time that I would eventually go on to start my own coffee company, when I took a trip to Italy a few years back I was absolutely a passionate coffee consumer, especially when it came to espresso and the cafe culture that was now moving in unbelievable directions back here at home.
So it was with great anticipation that we left on this trip to Venice and would eventually move on to Rome then Marrakech (No I didn’t surf in Morocco. Yes, I know. No, I don’t want to talk about it.)
One thing I can honestly say about arriving in Venice is this. If you have the means, you should absolutely rent the private speedboat taxi instead of taking the ferry or the train. I know it’s a hundred bucks or so, but when in your life do you get to arrive in Venice like James Bond instead of like, well, everyone else we all are on a regular day.
Blazing through the Venetian Lagoon on one of these classic boats, wind in your hair, maybe a glass of Champagne in your hand and being dropped of on a dock right outside your hotel is one of the best hundred bucks you can spend in your entire life. I mean, if you’re splitting it between maybe four people it’s not even that much. Everyone should do this, yet I never see it on must do travel lists or recommendations. I think people forget to focus on the little things.
Now that you’re in Venice it will be time to grab a coffee and get the fuzziness of the trip out of your head. You won’t have to walk far before you find a cafe, and unlike when I travel other places these days, there was no need to search ahead of time for ‘best coffee in…’. I wasn’t looking for some fancy, third-wave coffee shop with vacuum coffee makers and the latest in Direct Trade Rwandan beans. Not that there isn’t a place for that, but here in Italy I was just going to walk into the first cafe I saw, stand at the counter, order ‘uno espresso, per favore’ in my best horrible Italian, through down a euro or two, leaning with my elbow on the ancient, chipped and stained marble countertop that has had people doing this exact same thing for thousands of years, and listen to the bustling conversation happening around me.
Then I would walk a little bit and do it again.
This is Italian coffee, the part that Starbucks can’t do because, in the interest of speed and volume and paying the rent in Times Square, people can’t just stand around blocking access to the cash register.
Starbucks – or anyone else for that matter, who hasn’t been in the neighborhood in the same spot for a millennium, their real estate bought and paid for a hundred times or more, and giving a basic income to the proprietor for generations – can’t sell an espresso for one euro. But these people can.
Everywhere you go you can throw down a coin and get a nice little espresso. It’s not this giant double that we’ve become accustomed to, but its ONE EURO, and that allows me to have more than one without being wired out of my mind, enjoying the transaction, the encounter, the experience of a new shop, new crowd, new noise, over and over.
Just for kicks, while writing this and thinking back on my time in Venice, I Googled ‘best cafe Venice Italy’ to see what popped up. Of course, what I found you won’t find in many other places, this is Venice after all.
Caffe Florian Venizia – The Venitian Cafe Since 1720.
I’m sorry. 1720?
Of course, this actually makes perfect sense as Venice was the gateway to Europe for all of the riches of Africa and the Middle East where coffee originated. But it is still amazing to see that date.
I didn’t have a coffee at the Caffe Florian, which is located right on the Piazza San Marco, but I drank about a hundred Aperol Spritzes in a bar on the other side of the piazza and managed to get myself invited to a wedding by a group of Italian guys in town for a bachelor party.
I’ll always regret not being able to attend, but I digress…
From here we would take the train to Rome, but it would be Venice that really stuck in my memory for this part of the trip – Rome being too big, too crowded (it was winter, so Venice was actually pretty empty) to feel like you could get a handle on the place in the short time we had.
For it’s pure James Bondness or Indiana Jonesness, Venice is just the stuff of legends, and will continue to be until in crumbles into the sea. Be sure to get there while you can, have a simple espresso with the locals at a well-worn bar, walk a bit, then have another. Go when it’s cold and rainy and you have the place to yourself and don’t have to wait in lines and you don’t mind just finding a place to sit to read or write in your diary while you wait for the rain to stop.
Arancini – squid.