It feels like we had been talking about a trip to Italy from the time we met. This year, we finally made it happen for Ally's 30th birthday.
Italy is the birthplace of the espresso menu we all know so well (i.e. espresso, latte, cappuccino), and home to some of the most prestigious and well-known brands in coffee. Every La Marzocco espresso machine, for example, is made near Florence.
The significance of the espresso machine is made clear by the fact that even run-of-the-mill cafes sport 2- or 3-grouphead espresso machines. But while everyone takes their coffee seriously, not all espressos are created equal. Perhaps as a result of them more-or-less inventing the game, there's not as much innovation to be found in Italian coffee as one finds in cities with strong third wave cultures.
That by no means implies there's not fantastic coffee to be found in Italy. And if you're disappointed to find a shortage of pourovers, the fact that you can get a solid espresso virtually anywhere (gas stations included) more than makes up for the fact.
With myriad espresso shops to choose from, we sought out to find places that embody the soul of what makes Italian coffee so great.
Here are five of our favorites from the spots we visited. Most champion that classic Italian vibe, and one is a local roaster carrying the third wave torch in Florence.
1. Cibrèo Caffè
- Fabio Picchi
We had our favorite espresso of Florence at Cibrèo Caffè. One of four food and dining shops of Chef Fabio Picchi, the caffè is open 8am - 1am daily. It's a great place to go for coffee and/or a meal at any time. Being able to sit and enjoy our coffee outside was always high on our priority list in Florence, and Cibrèo doesn't disappoint here.
2. 5 e Cinque
Piazza della Passera, 1, 50125 Firenze FI
We had heard about 5 e Cinque as a great spot for dinner from our friends at Cereal Magazine. When we stumbled upon it one day in the afternoon, we found it the perfect spot to relax over a post-lunch espresso. Run by a husband, wife, and their daughter, 5 e Cinque features an all-organic vegetarian menu composed entirely of seasonal, locally-sourced produce and products—including wine. The coffee is organic as well, and combined with the lovely interaction with one of the owners and the tasteful interior, it was definitely one of our favorite memories in Florence.
3. Ditta Artigianale
Via Andrea del Verrocchio, 5R, 50122 Firenze FI
Ditta Artigianale is the Third Wave hero of Florence. They have two shops, Neri (the original) and Sprone, with a third on the way. Here you can find coffees of exceptional quality with varying roast levels. Their espresso blends are delicious, and should you be craving a pour-over—they've got you covered.
Ditta was started by Francesco Sanapo, an Italian barista who placed 6th in the world barista finals of 2013 in Melbourne. In that moment, Francesco felt a new obligation to introduce the innovation of the world coffee culture to his home country. Leveraging the momentum of his achievement, he started Ditta with the mission of bringing third wave coffee to Florence in a way that respects Italian tradition and hospitality.
4. S. Forno Panificio
Via Santa Monaca, 3r, 50124 Firenze FI
S. Forno was our first stop for breakfast and coffee in Florence. We love the rustic charm of the old walls and floors, the authentic Italian food products, and the mouth-watering display of cakes, pastries and bread. We also enjoy the casual approach to coffee. In a break from Italian tradition, S. Forno lets you help yourself to drip coffee.
There's more than meets the eye to this place. S. Forno has been a bakery for over 100 years, and is one of the few remaining fornos (oven) in Florence with the original ovens on site—not outside of town. When, after 40 years of baking seven days a week, the sole proprietor and baker Angelo was about ready to call it quits, the restaurant group behind Il Santo Bevitore (and Il Santino wine bar, where we enjoyed a few glasses) took ownership. With a team behind him, Angelo is still baking, only now without the pressure of doing it all.
Via del Parione, 19R, 50123 Firenze FI
We encountered Mariano by chance. While meandering through the streets with our friends Jodi and Alex, we were snapping some photos in the street when a handsome entryway with "Alimentari" came into view. We ducked in to a cozy old cellar with sloping brick ceiling, shelves overflowing with food, and a clean, shiny espresso machine behind a white marble standing bar. Watching the barista make our espressos was to watch a master. The attention to detail and precision on display bore the signs of someone who's been doing this their whole life.