Although Italy boasts some of the best HOT coffee the world has to offer, they have yet to tackle the world of ICED coffee. The summers in Italy, especially Florence, can be brutally hot so you would imagine the idea of adding ice to coffee would have hit home here, but it has not.
Now, there is a perfectly good explanation for this. First, Italians really don’t put ice in anything, let alone coffee. Coffee for them should be super strong and not diluted in any way. They also, as I mentioned in a previous post on coffee, do not tend to drink lattes or cappuccinos as often as Americans do and these are really the coffee drinks that lend themselves best to being iced. The vast majority of Italian coffee breaks are spent drinking espresso shots that would be quite silly on ice. Finally, ice and other very cold drinks are, in general, not thought of “healthy” in Italy. This is especially true of ice-cold milk.
I am not saying that Italians are wrong. Think how often your dentist tells you not to chew on ice. In a similar vein, Italians see ice and iced drinks as shocking to your system and an unhealthy habit. That being said, when it is 90 degrees out and you need to be caffeinated, it is really hard to turn to a steaming hot cup of coffee.The Italian solution to this need for a cold coffee drink is the granita, a kind of frappuccino without the milk. It comes in lots of delicious flavors and one of them is coffee. This can caffeinate and cool you down while not requiring you to drink the cold milk that Italians are not as fond of. Now, if you ask me, a granita is perfect at 3pm to get the system going again and take you through the home stretch of the day (Gelateria dei Neri and Perche’ No! have excellent granitas – see map). However, there are mornings when what you really want is an ice coffee.
After a month in Italy I had given up many things, the to-go cup for example (they do not exist people! If you ask for a coffee “to go” you will get strange looks and Styrofoam), but I had not given up on ice coffee. So one summer I went on a mission, one that may seem impossible to some: a mission to find a decent ice coffee (what I really mean is an iced latte since they don’t do the drip coffee here, thank god). Easy you say? Not so.
First of all, you may assume that the phrase “iced latte” is relatively straight-forward. It is not. If your asking for something from someone who has never made such a thing and thinks such a request is odd and even maybe a little gross, then you are bound to encounter difficulty.
I tried many different words and word combinations to get the results I was looking for. These included latte con ghiaccio or “latte with ice” (this produced a hot latte with ice cubes in it), latte freddo or “cold latte” (a lukewarm latte), and latte shakerato or “shaken latte.” This last version was, surprisingly, the closest to our iced lattes at home. The order requires that the ice and coffee be shaken in a martini mixer before being poured into your cup. However (and ironically counter to the entire point of asking for a “shaken” latte!), this slightly cooled liquid was then poured into a freshly cleaned, hot cup!I must have tried ten places before I started to feel like the mission was a failure. That is when I heard about the café at the Istituto Lorenzo de’Medici. According to rumor, this little café had the best, and perhaps the only, ice coffee in town. I went straight away to find out if such an impossible tale could be true. It was. The barista (bless him) at Lorenzo de’Medici café makes an “American” style ice coffee complete with pre-added sugar to ensure Italian levels of sweetness. It even came in (the closest thing I have ever seen to) a to-go cup. It was an Italian miracle!
The moral of this story is that the hidden café at Lorenzo de’Medici is a gem (and well hidden! See Map below) and that sometimes you do miss home and it is ok to try and recreate those things you miss about it. However, if I had not found this little café, I would have survived. I swear. Though I do love me an iced coffee every now and then.
(P.S. – Zoom out to see the location of two of my favorite granita spots.)
View Caffe Lorenzo de’Medici in a larger map