Chasing Down The Best Coffee In Florence
|Photo credit: Cindy Duran|
Florence might be most famous for its art and architecture, but its lesser-known coffee culture is undergoing a renaissance of its own. Tradition and innovation stand side by side as shabby express bars and trendy artisan coffeehouses compete to win over the city’s choosy clientele. And to make sure you know where to go to get the best of both worlds, we at Roman Candle Tours are going to spill the beans on where you can find the best coffee in Florence.
From a macchiato made in heaven to the city’s most crave-worthy cappuccino (the consumption of which after breakfast will earn you social ostracism here in Italy), we’ve come up with a list of traditional bars, chic cafés, and artisan coffeehouses which brew up creations to please even the most discerning of coffee connoisseurs.
But first, here are some things you need to know about ordering coffee in Italy
|Photo credit: The Telegraph|
If you’re a seasoned veteran of Italian (coffee) culture, feel free to skip this part and head straight to our list. But if this is your first time in the bel paese, you might want to bear some of these things in mind. For just as there’s an art to being a barista, here in Italy there’s an art to ordering from one. And should you stray from any of these commandments, you could find yourself in a latte confusion!
Stand up to save – Sit down to savour
Have you ever noticed that in Italian cafés there are always people standing at the bar? Part of this is because Italians are innately sociable, but another reason—and little known fact when it comes to Italian bars— is that you actually pay more to sit down.
Quite a lot more in fact. Taking a seat to sip your coffee can cost anywhere in the region of 20 to 50 percent extra (how much depending on what there is to see outside). But hey, if you’re in a café and everyone’s standing at the bar just do as the Romans do and join them.
“We no speak Americano”
|Photo credit: Eataly|
If you ask for a coffee in Italy and expect an Americano prepare to be disappointed. Coffee (or “caffè”) in an Italian bar is just that—coffee: a small but delicious drip of what we know outside Italy as an espresso.
To say that Italians are pretty particular about their coffee is an understatement. There might be as many variations of coffee as there are residents in Florence, but in the eyes of many the drip (or filter) coffee that’s so beloved back home in the UK is considered acqua sporca or “dirty water”.
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So where does this leave you? You can always order a caffè lungo(equally strong but twice as long) or a cappuccino senza schiuma (pronounced “SKEW-mah”), which is a little bit like a flat white. Or, if you’re determined to get your filter coffee and you’re willing to break some balls, just ask for it while specifying that you want it al vetro or “in a glass cup” (apparently there’s a difference).
A bright red face and a glass of warm milk
This common pitfall is best explained through an anecdote. In Spring 2015, three of my former uni flatmates came to visit me for a long weekend in Florence. Unfortunately, I had to work on the Friday. But being the glorious sunny day that it was, I handed them a map and left them to their own devices.
After climbing Piazzale Michelangelo for its famous panoramic over the city, and by this stage feeling the effects of the night before, they decided to recharge their batteries by taking a pit stop outside a café in Piazza Santo Spirito. One of them ordered a cappuccino, the other an espresso, and the third one asked for a “latte”.
|Piazza Santo Spirito: Photo credit: Travel DK|
The one who ordered the latte told me that their waitress—whom he described as the most intimidatingly beautiful women he’d ever seen—looked somewhat taken aback when he asked for the latte, and diligently checked to see if he wanted just milk.
Clearly he did not. But whether out of sheepish shame or misplaced male pride, he agreed that he in fact did. And that’s just what he got—a warm glass of milk to painfully make his way through on a beautiful vernal day.
There are several lessons to be learnt here.
The first is that we English should resist our ingrained cultural tendency to avoid awkwardness at all costs. The second, more coffee-related lesson, however, is that the Italian word for latte is milk, and what we can “latte” is the shortened form of lattemacchiato (pronounced “mah-kee-AH-toe”) which is a coffee with a generous topping of milk.
You get what you pay for, but how do you pay?
It’s been three years since I moved to Italy, and I’m still not entirely sure what the procedure is when it comes to paying. In some places you tell the barista what you want and they serve it up along with the receipt so you can pay on your way out. In other places you pay the cashier first then present your barista with the receipt. As a rule of thumb, just watch what the locals do and go with the flow.
|Photo credit: Girl in Florence|
1) Ditta Artigianale (Via dei Neri 32/R & Via dello Sprone 5/R)
The joint that became such a hit they had to open two, Ditta Artigianale has boldly gone where no Florentine coffee bar has gone before in offering a modern menu (featuring flat whites and daily-updated filtered coffees) and delicious, unpretentious food within a sleek, urban setting.
The original, more spartanly furnished establishment is on the Via dei Neri near the Basilica of Santa Croce. But the larger (and in my opinion better) branch is nestled between Palazzo Pitti and Piazza della Passera—a small square that’s also home to hands down the best gelato in Florence.
What this coffee house’s success boils down to is more than just the quality of its beans. Its owners have managed to tap into the market by serving delicious food and drink within a comfortable environment—something conspicuously lacking in many of Italy’s rather more rundown and shabbily furnished suburban bars.
To lay my cards on the table, I generally don’t advocate the arrival of chains like Starbucks in Florence (least of all in the area around the Duomo). But I have no doubt that, if they were to arrive, it’d be precisely for their comfort, convenience, and—dare I say—plug sockets that they’d be a roaring success, especially among millennials and freelancers like myself.
2) Il Caffè del Verone (Museum Degli Innocenti, Piazza della Santissima Annunziata 13)
|Photo credit: Bernardo Ricci Armani|
You do have to pass through the museum’s entrance to get there, but you don’t have to buy a ticket to visit the café. I know this because, mortifyingly, it was the first thing my mother asked the receptionist when she last came to visit (sorry if you’re reading this mum, it’s just that I did use to work there!)
Situated on the rooftop of the world’s first secular institution devoted to raising infants and children, the café’s history is matched only by its view. In fact, the only café where you can get a better view of Brunelleschi’s great dome is the far more frenetic, student-busy Caffetteria delle Oblate.
|Photo credit: Caffè del Verone|
But trust me when I say that Il Caffè del Verone is better. Not only is it the ideal place for a caffeine injection before heading down to their remarkable museum, but it also serves up some great traditional Tuscan food. Just remember that according to the strict rules of Italian coffee culture, when it comes to coffee and food never the twain shall meet!
3) Caffè Concerto Paszkowski (Piazza della Repubblica 35/R)
|Photo credit: Caffè Concerto Paszkowski|
If you’re looking for a café that oozes class, chic, and elegance, Paszkowski is the place for you. The café is to Florence’s coffee culture what the Uffizi is to Florence’s art scene—an institution. In fact, just like the Uffizi the building has been designated a national monument, having been in constant operation as a beer hall, music venue, and café since 1903.
It’s not hard to see why it was once the favourite of the Florentine intelligentsia. Sprawling onto the monumental Piazza della Repubblica right in the beating heart of the city centre, the inside is a haven of chic wooden décor, chandeliered ceilings, daily baked pastries and—most importantly—espressoto die for.
|Photo credit: Caffè Concerto Paszkowski|
Head there early in the morning or afternoon to make sure you don’t miss out on their scrumptious pastries. Or make your way there later in the evenings and you can expect to be treated to one of their nightly piano recitals.
4) Le Murate Caffè Letterario
|Photo credit: Chiara Mecocci
Drinking your morning coffee within the confines of Florence’s most famous prison might not sound like the ideal way to spend your holiday. But as the happening place of the moment favoured by Florence’s young and beautiful, Le Murate really is the place to be.
It’s quite difficult to find though. Despite living just five minutes away, the first time I tried to go there I typed “Le Murate” into Google Maps and was directed to an upmarket Fish and Chips shop of the same name about a 15-minute walk west (a bad workman always blames his tools, I just have a poor sense of direction).
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But it’s well worth checking out. Like Ditta Artigianale, it’s less the traditional Italian bar where you grab a coffee on the go or stand uncomfortably at the bar and more a place to linger, browse the Internet, and slowly sip your way through a dreamy cappuccino.
5) Quelo (Borgo Santa Croce 15R)
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It’s a bold claim, but I’m going to throw it out there. Feel free to throw it back if you disagree.
Quelo does the best cappuccino in Florence.
I don’t know what makes it so good, I’ve never thought to ask. It could be their finely ground beans, which are 100 percent Arabica. It could be that these beans are just brewed to perfection. But whether you decide to drink a cappuccino in and linger among Quelo’s quirky interior, or order one to takeaway and wander round the nearby sites of Santa Croce and the Uffizi after one of our tours of Florence, make sure to make the time to pop into Quelo.
|Photo credit: Tripadvisor|
It’s not just cappuccino they excel in. Last year I also wrote about how they do one of the best aperitivo in Florence. In case you were wondering, nope they’re not paying me for this publicity. In fact I live directly above Quelo on a narrow medieval street, and the late-night noise that spills out onto it should be enough to make me dissuade anyone from going. But as one of Florence’s hidden gems, you’d do well to check it out.
6) Mo’ Si Caffetteria alla Vecchia Maniera
|Photo credit: Tripadvisor|
This Neapolitan bar might not adhere to Naples’s tradition of the caffè sospeso, in which customers sometimes pay for an extra coffee to be enjoyed by the next stranger who wanders in off the streets. But it’s widely regarded as the only place in Florence where you still get what the Neapolitans call a coffee of the three Cs, calda, comoda, e carica (warm, comfortable, and fully-charged).
|Photo credit: Tripadvisor|
Of all the coffees characterised by these three Cs, their cappuccinocomes out on top. And while you’re there, why not treat yourself to one of their freshly baked pastries or brioches, especially the cornetti al ciocolato (chocolate croissants) or bombolini (cream-filled doughnuts). Heavenly.
Roman Candle Tours in Florence
|Photo credit: Roman Candle Tours|
We won’t pretend that this is a complete list of the best places to get coffee in Florence. But at least it should give you a good grounding. Whether it’s to perk yourself up before one of your tours of Florence or relax and wind down after, don’t miss the opportunity to indulge yourself in some of the most delicious coffee in the world.
If you think we’ve missed something off our list, or if you’ve been to an outstanding café in Florence and want to share your experience, this is your chance to get in touch! Leave a comment below and share your story with us and our readers. We’d love to hear from you!