For Italians, there’s more to the espresso than early morning pick-me-up. So much so that a group of officials are pushing for it to be recognised on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list
Espresso was invented in Turin in 1884, and some of the best steam-driven, machine-made coffee can still be sipped in the city’s authentic coffee bars. If you want to drink espresso like a true Torino, forget about the single shot cups – it’s all about the bicerin. This long drink is a heady mix of chocolate (another of the city’s exports), a shot of espresso and cream – tailor made for long chats in the historic coffee houses.
Whether you’re in the market for a bicerin or a quick espresso, the following five coffee shops should be on your Turin radar.
The historic one: Caffè Mulassano
Piazza Castello, 15
It may not be the oldest in town – that honour goes to Caffè Al Bicerin, founded in 1763 – but this mainstay on Piazza Castello is probably the best preserved. It’s even listed as a Historical Place of Italy, with its art nouveau decor and bow-tie-wearing baristas giving the impression of stepping back in time to the days when espresso was a new concept. It only has five tables, so stand at the marble and bronze bar like the locals always have done. Another string to Mulassano’s bow? It’s where the tramezzino sandwich was invented.
The local secret: Caffetteria Pino
Via Mogadiscio 16
Despite its off-the-beaten path location near the Monte Grappa metro stop, Bar Pino has deservedly earned a reputation for slinging some of the best espressos in town. Make the pilgrimage and you’ll be greeted by a cosy and quaint space filled with the rich aroma of Passalacqua coffee – a classic Neopolitan brand. You’ll probably meet bar owner Pino himself: a transplant from Rome, he makes his coffee the old-fashioned way with a lever-handled machine. Ornate prints and antique furniture add to the ambiance of this small, eclectic space.
The hipster hangout: Orso Laboratorio del Caffè
Via Claudio Luigi Berthollet, 30h
While tradition is all well and good, a few coffee shops in Turin take a more modern approach. The most famous is Orso Laboratorio del Caffè. This hipster hotspot has attracted a following for its third-wave extraction techniques like Aeropress, V-60 and siphon, but they still take authentic Italian coffee-making seriously. As well as the ubiquitous espresso machine, you can choose to have your coffee brewed in a Neapolitan coffee pot. Coffee geeks will enjoy sipping their way through the range of single-origin beans sourced from the likes of Ethiopia, Indonesia and Mexico.
The cultural one: Caffè San Carlo
Piazza S. Carlo, 156
In the 19th Century, Turin’s coffee shops were a gathering place for intellectuals, politicians and artists. They’d share ideas (or quietly plan revolutions) while getting their caffeine fix. Few can boast of having as many big names step through their doors than the baroque Caffè San Carlo. It’s where Gramsci had the idea for his far-left newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo, the Duke of Abruzzi planned his expedition to Antarctica and where Alexandre Dumas sipped his first bicerin. But it’s not all about plush, gilded interiors and impressive clientele. The real joy of Caffè San Carlo is the coffee, which is brewed from the best Lavazza blends produced just outside Turin.
The beloved local chain: Caffè Vergnano 1882
Multiple locations in Turin
From humble beginnings to an Italian empire, no conversation about espresso is complete without mentioning Caffè Vergnano 1882. It all started with a small shop in Chieri, a suburb of Turin. Today the company has more than 15 coffee shops in Turin and hundreds of shops across Europe. Visiting and not popping in would be like going to Seattle and not sampling a coffee from the first-ever Starbucks. Vergnano might be a huge player in the global coffee game but they’ve never forgotten their roots – you can find seven different types of bicerin in their coffee shops. You can also buy beans and grounds in-store, if you want to recreate the authentic Italian experience at home.