Italians drink around 30 million espressos every day, and the world famous Italian espresso is not just simply a shot of caffeine, it is viewed not only as a solitary pleasure, but as a richly important social and cultural ritual, worthy of being protected as such on Unesco’s heritage list.

What makes a ‘proper’ espresso?

According to the Italian Espresso Institute, a ‘proper’ espresso must be around 25 millilitres, and it should have an aroma that is “intense and rich with floral, fruity, chocolate and toasty notes…” together with being “full-bodied and velvety” and also having a “fair dose of bitterness.” In addition to the flavour, the crema (the froth that sits on the top of the coffee), must be “uniform and persistent for at least 120 seconds” after it has been dispensed without, of course, it having been stirred.

And why should Italian espresso get Unesco protected status?

Massimiliano Rosati, who owns the famous Gambrinus café in Naples, just a short distance from the San Carlo opera house and the seafront, is a member of the team behind the official bid to have the humble espresso elevated to the status worthy of being described as ‘intangible cultural heritage’. He said: “The espresso is an excuse to tell a friend that you care about them” and one of his regular customers, Annamaria Conte, a retired teacher, feels that drinking an espresso “is a rite” and that it is, in a way “sacred”.

And furthermore, as Italy’s deputy minister for Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies, Gian Marco Centinaio, explained to Italian news outlet Sky TG24: “In Italy, coffee is much more than a simple drink: it is an authentic ritual… an integral part of our national identity… an expression of our social relationships that distinguishes us around the world.”

There is precedent for this type of thing…

Other Italian traditions have been recognised by Unesco already, including truffle hunting, the art of Neapolitan pizza and violin making in Cremona, and “Turkish coffee culture and tradition” has already made it on to Unesco’s list, but Italy’s earlier application in 2021 was turned down. It turned out this was an administrative error, with the Region of Campania arguing that espresso was integral to Neapolitan culture, and the Consortium for the Protection of Traditional Italian Espresso Coffee also proposing that the espresso ritual and culture was representative of the entire country.

The two simultaneous applications led to both being denied, but Italy was told to reapply with a united submission this year! The Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies have already approved the submission; the next stage is to get approval from the Italian National Unesco Commission, and then finally by Unesco headquarters.


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