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Italian word of the day: ‘Ammazzacaffè’

Italian word of the day: 'Ammazzacaffè'
Photo: Annie Spratt/Unsplash/Nicolas Raymond
We've got a killer word for you today.

It’s obvious why a coffee is needed after one of those famously large Italian lunches: to stop the abbiocco setting in, or to revive you after a pennichella.

Whether it’s after Sunday lunch with your family or dinner at a restaurant, coffee is seen as so essential that it’s almost part of the meal itself.

It’s just as common for people to follow that shot of strong coffee with a shot of strong alcohol – in order to deaden the caffeine buzz or wash away the taste. And there’s a special term for this after-coffee drink: ammazzacaffè, literally meaning ‘coffee killer’.

In this case, the liqueur will be drunk immediately after the coffee. In some parts of Italy it’s customary to pour it into the same cup you just drank your espresso out of.

The idea of drinking a coffee to wake yourself up after lunch and then drinking alcohol to take the edge off might seem odd to people from other countries, but many Italians will tell you this is the way things should be done.

This tradition was born among the European aristocracy and soon adopted by the masses – not only because it was seen as terribly sophisticated back in the day, but also because the quality of coffee at the time was pretty poor.

Strongly-flavoured liqueurs like sambuca or grappa were used to ‘rinse’ the taste of the coffee from the palate. 

Nowadays it’s still an integral part of any formal (or just large) meal in Italy, but it’s more about enhancing the taste of the coffee and rounding off the evening or afternoon. Any type of liqueur or amaro may be served, from brandy to amaretto or limoncello, though every region has its traditions and preferences.

Of course, you could just add the liqueur to the espresso (making a caffè corretto).

It goes almost without saying that the coffee drunk after a meal should be an espresso, or caffè normale; you wouldn’t order a coffee with milk, such as a cappuccino, and then follow it with a shot of something alcoholic, unless you wanted to upset everyone else in the room (as well as upsetting your stomach).

And a word of warning: though the Italian tradition is a little more civilised, if you’re not used to it you may find the effects of an ammazzacaffè aren’t too different to those of drinking a vodka redbull.

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