Status: 03.10.2023, 09:00 a.m.
Coffee is part of Italy's cultural heritage. Espresso in particular is an integral part of life there. For this reason, it must not be sold at too high a price.
It is not for nothing that Italy is one of the most popular tourist destinations. Both culturally and culinarily, the southern European state has a lot to offer. But Italy is not only the land of pizza, pasta and ice cream: coffee is also an integral part of the "Dolce Vita". Coffee lovers from all over the world come to Italy to enjoy the unique tradition.
Espresso in particular is very popular with Italians – no wonder, after all, this specialty was invented in Milan. Espresso is now drunk all over the world, but in Italy this way of making coffee is an integral part of the culture. There are even efforts to make Italian espresso a UNESCO World Heritage Site. What very few tourists know: In Italy, an espresso may not cost more than one euro. However, this rule only applies under certain conditions.
Espresso is a staple food in Italy
Nowadays, most Italians drink an espresso several times a day. More than a hundred years ago, things looked different: around 1900, coffee was considered a luxury good. Those who could afford to drink the bitter bean drink outside the home usually belonged to the upper class. But even then, coffee was considered an important part of life. Therefore, in 1911, the hot drink was put on a list of other staple foods. Similar to bread, for example, coffee was considered a "necessity". As such, it had to continue to be equally affordable for all citizens. A fixed marginal price determined the maximum price of the espresso.
The decree is still valid today, but only refers to the "caffé al banco", i.e. the coffee that is drunk quickly at the bar. If you sit down with your espresso normally, you have to dig much deeper into your pocket – often the coffee costs three euros. Most tourists do not know the special coffee law and therefore pay more than necessary. The locals, on the other hand, usually cavort at the bar.
Drinking a quick espresso at the bar: this ritual is mandatory for many Italians. © IMAGO
Italian espresso price: It doesn't always have to be one euro
The price is set by the respective municipality. The average value is one euro. There is a clear north-south divide: in the richer north, espresso is usually more expensive, while in southern Italy the price can be less than one euro. On the whole, however, espresso prices do not differ dramatically from each other – provided it is drunk "al banco". If not, the landlords often charge a hefty service surcharge. Especially in expensive cities like Venice, which are overrun by tourists every year, an espresso can cost over six euros.
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If you want to save money cleverly, you should drink your espresso at the counter next time. On the other hand, many holidaymakers do not want to be rushed during their trip. If you have time and need a breather, you'll probably be happy to pay a little more to sit down comfortably with a cup of coffee and enjoy the lively atmosphere in the café. In the end, it is up to each holidaymaker to decide how to enjoy his coffee: in typical Italian style at the bar or sitting, with a newspaper in his hand. In any case, restaurateurs are happy when guests sit down and leave more money.
Florence: Overpriced espresso leads to fine
Due to the special regulation on the price of coffee, bar operators have to reckon with nasty consequences if they charge a different price. A scandal erupted in Florence last year: a man called the police when he was asked to pay two euros for a decaffeinated espresso in a bar. The fact that the landlord demanded twice the normal price, the bar visitor did not see. As reported by the Italian news portal Firenze Today, among others, the police actually agreed with him. The landlord had to pay a fine of 1,000 euros, as the drink prices could not be read anywhere in the café. Normally, the bar operators have to provide information about the prices.