Why Italy thinks its coffee should get Unesco heritage status

The Italian government has applied for traditional Italian espresso coffee to be added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. But not everyone is convinced it's a good idea.

Why Italy thinks its coffee should get Unesco heritage status
Photo: DepositPhotos

After Unesco recognised the cultural importance of Neapolitan pizza-making in 2017, Italy now says its coffee too deserves a spot on the list – or at least the traditional way of making and drinking it.

Standing at the bar to drink an espresso coffee has long been seen as part of the fabric of society and a social “leveller” in Italy – something enjoyed by and affordable to almost all.

But some critics of the plan say Italian coffee culture must be allowed to evolve – and that quality must improve.

The Unesco application was finalised this month for the government's nomination of “traditional Italian espresso” for Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

READ ALSO: Italy's Prosecco hills added to Unesco's World Heritage list

The initiative came from the Consortium for the Protection of Traditional Italian Espresso Coffee, “whose originality and peculiarity must be preserved”, according to MP Maria Chiara Gadda,of the Italia Viva party, who spoke as the application was presented in the Italian Chamber of Deputies.

“We know very well how important coffee is to Italians, to Italians living abroad and to people around the world who have learned to appreciate something that is also a ritual and an occasion for meeting,” she stated.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte enjoys an espresso in the Chamber of Deputies. Photo: AFP

Today Italians are drinking more coffee than ever – the annual per capita consumption of coffee in Italy went up by 5.3 percent in 2018 to 5.9 kilograms, according to the Ansa news agency. 95 percent of Italians drink it habitually.

However, Finland, not Italy, is the country that holds the European record for coffee consumption.

But those behind the Unesco application said the thing that sets Italian coffee apart from other types drunk in Finland, Turkey, or anywhere else where coffee-drinking is common and traditional, is its crema, the “cream” on the surface of any good Italian espresso coffee.
La crema, according to the regulations drafted by the consortium, “must be uniform and persistent for at least 120 seconds from the time the coffee has been dispensed without stirring.”
The cream must also be “consistent, a dark hazel color, with light streaks.”
Photo: Depositphotos
For it to be “traditional”, the espresso must be made by a trained barista using a bar's coffee machine. The coffee must be freshly ground, and brewed for exactly 20 to 27 seconds.
There are also rules on the type of cup used (porcelain with a narrow bottom), amount of coffee in the cup (between 13 and 26 grams) and the temperature, which must be between 90 and 96 degrees Celsius.
Stove-top Moka coffee makers and capsule coffee machines don't count, despite both being widely used in Italian homes, as they don't follow the particular method outlined by the committee.
While coffee lovers worldwide may support the proposal, some Italian food blogs were quick to pour cold water on the idea.
“The Italian espresso, the one we all know, is not good, even if you like it,” writes Nunzia Clemente at the well-known food blog Dissapore, saying the Unesco application “doesn't make sense” and citing the problems caused by coffee sold at a “ridiculously low price.”
Every cup must “fall within the symbolic price of one euro, beyond which the consumer is indignant,” she writes.
Clemente slams the resulting poor quality of espresso and the ethical issues caused as many bars fight to keep prices down, adding that producers and others in the coffee supply chain are often underpaid.
And Michela Becchi writes on the Gambero Rosso food website's blog that the Unesco application should be looked at “critically.”
Coffee is “a speciality to be enjoyed free from the constraints of alleged tradition,” she writes.
Becchi points out that some Italian baristas are now “offering a new way of drinking and conceiving coffee: as a beverage to be sipped and savoured calmly, and no longer as a gesture to be repeated mechanically.”
“True, espresso is Italian history and traditions must be preserved, but they cannot – they must not – become a cage.”
The application must now be assessed by UNESCO before a decision is made, possibly as early as 2020.

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Why Friday the 13th isn’t an unlucky date in Italy

Unlucky for some, but not for Italians. Here's why today's date isn't a cause for concern in Italy - but Friday the 17th is.

Why Friday the 13th isn't an unlucky date in Italy

When Friday the 13th rolls around, many of us from English-speaking countries might reconsider any risky plans. And it’s not exactly a popular date for weddings in much of the western world.

But if you’re in Italy, you don’t need to worry about it.

There’s no shortage of strongly-held superstitions in Italian culture, particularly in the south. But the idea of Friday the 13th being an inauspicious date is not among them.

Though the ‘unlucky 13’ concept is not unknown in Italy – likely thanks to the influence of American film and TV – here the number is in fact usually seen as good luck, if anything.

The number 17, however, is viewed with suspicion and Friday the 17th instead is seen as the unlucky date to beware of.

Just as some Western airlines avoid including the 13th row on planes, you might find number 17 omitted on Italian planes, street numbering, hotel floors, and so on – so even if you’re not the superstitious type, it’s handy to be aware of.

The reason for this is thought to be because in Roman numerals the number 17 (XVII) is an anagram of the Latin word VIXI, meaning ‘I have lived’: the use of the past tense apparently suggests death, and therefore bad luck. It’s less clear what’s so inauspicious about Friday.

So don’t be surprised if, next time Friday 17th rolls around, you notice some Italian shops and offices closed per scaramanzia’.

But why then does 13 often have a positive connotation in Italy instead?

You may not be too surprised to learn that it’s because of football.

Ever heard of Totocalcio? It’s a football pools betting system in which players long tried to predict the results of 13 different matches.

There were triumphant calls of ho fatto tredici! – ‘I’ve done thirteen’ – among those who got them all right. The popular expression soon became used in other contexts to mean ‘I hit the jackpot’ or ‘that was a stroke of luck!’

From 2004, the number of games included in Totocalcio rose to 14, but you may still hear winners shout ‘ho fatto tredici’ regardless.

Other common Italian superstitions include touching iron (not wood) for good luck, not toasting with water, and never pouring wine with your left hand.