Why Italy thinks its coffee should get Unesco heritage status

The Italian government has applied for traditional Italian espresso coffee to be added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. But not everyone is convinced it's a good idea.

Why Italy thinks its coffee should get Unesco heritage status
Photo: DepositPhotos

After Unesco recognised the cultural importance of Neapolitan pizza-making in 2017, Italy now says its coffee too deserves a spot on the list – or at least the traditional way of making and drinking it.

Standing at the bar to drink an espresso coffee has long been seen as part of the fabric of society and a social “leveller” in Italy – something enjoyed by and affordable to almost all.

But some critics of the plan say Italian coffee culture must be allowed to evolve – and that quality must improve.

The Unesco application was finalised this month for the government's nomination of “traditional Italian espresso” for Intangible Heritage of Humanity.

READ ALSO: Italy's Prosecco hills added to Unesco's World Heritage list

The initiative came from the Consortium for the Protection of Traditional Italian Espresso Coffee, “whose originality and peculiarity must be preserved”, according to MP Maria Chiara Gadda,of the Italia Viva party, who spoke as the application was presented in the Italian Chamber of Deputies.

“We know very well how important coffee is to Italians, to Italians living abroad and to people around the world who have learned to appreciate something that is also a ritual and an occasion for meeting,” she stated.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte enjoys an espresso in the Chamber of Deputies. Photo: AFP

Today Italians are drinking more coffee than ever – the annual per capita consumption of coffee in Italy went up by 5.3 percent in 2018 to 5.9 kilograms, according to the Ansa news agency. 95 percent of Italians drink it habitually.

However, Finland, not Italy, is the country that holds the European record for coffee consumption.

But those behind the Unesco application said the thing that sets Italian coffee apart from other types drunk in Finland, Turkey, or anywhere else where coffee-drinking is common and traditional, is its crema, the “cream” on the surface of any good Italian espresso coffee.
La crema, according to the regulations drafted by the consortium, “must be uniform and persistent for at least 120 seconds from the time the coffee has been dispensed without stirring.”
The cream must also be “consistent, a dark hazel color, with light streaks.”
Photo: Depositphotos
For it to be “traditional”, the espresso must be made by a trained barista using a bar's coffee machine. The coffee must be freshly ground, and brewed for exactly 20 to 27 seconds.
There are also rules on the type of cup used (porcelain with a narrow bottom), amount of coffee in the cup (between 13 and 26 grams) and the temperature, which must be between 90 and 96 degrees Celsius.
Stove-top Moka coffee makers and capsule coffee machines don't count, despite both being widely used in Italian homes, as they don't follow the particular method outlined by the committee.
While coffee lovers worldwide may support the proposal, some Italian food blogs were quick to pour cold water on the idea.
“The Italian espresso, the one we all know, is not good, even if you like it,” writes Nunzia Clemente at the well-known food blog Dissapore, saying the Unesco application “doesn't make sense” and citing the problems caused by coffee sold at a “ridiculously low price.”
Every cup must “fall within the symbolic price of one euro, beyond which the consumer is indignant,” she writes.
Clemente slams the resulting poor quality of espresso and the ethical issues caused as many bars fight to keep prices down, adding that producers and others in the coffee supply chain are often underpaid.
And Michela Becchi writes on the Gambero Rosso food website's blog that the Unesco application should be looked at “critically.”
Coffee is “a speciality to be enjoyed free from the constraints of alleged tradition,” she writes.
Becchi points out that some Italian baristas are now “offering a new way of drinking and conceiving coffee: as a beverage to be sipped and savoured calmly, and no longer as a gesture to be repeated mechanically.”
“True, espresso is Italian history and traditions must be preserved, but they cannot – they must not – become a cage.”
The application must now be assessed by UNESCO before a decision is made, possibly as early as 2020.

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Venice Carnival: What to expect if you’re attending in 2023

After three years of toned-down celebrations, Venice's famous Carnival is finally set to return to its former grandeur. Here’s what you need to know about this year’s edition.

Venice Carnival: What to expect if you're attending in 2023

The historic Venice Carnival – a tradition which dates back to the late 14th century – will be back in all of its splendour this year as the upcoming edition of the festival will be the first one without pandemic-related restrictions since 2019. 

As the undisputed queen of Italian Carnival, Venice will once again put on a full programme of water parades, masked balls, fine dining experiences and street art performances spread over 18 days of sheer carnevale fun.

If you’re planning on taking part in the city’s Carnival celebrations, here’s a quick guide to this year’s main events.

What are the dates?

The Venice Carnival will officially start on Saturday, February 4th with a night parade streaming down the city’s iconic Grand Canal accompanied by music, dance performances and light shows.

READ ALSO: Nine ways to get into trouble while visiting Venice

The parade will kick off two weeks of events, unfolding both in the centro storico (city centre) and on the smaller islands of the lagoon.

As always though, celebrations will peak in the six days between giovedì grasso (‘Fat Thursday’, falling on February 16th) and martedì grasso (shrove Tuesday, falling on February 21st). 

A masked reveller wearing a traditional carnival costume In St Mark's Square, Venice

The 2023 Venice Carnival will start with a floating parade down the Grand Canal on February 4th. Photo by Andrea PATTARO / AFP

The most popular and widely anticipated events of the Venice Carnival are scheduled to take place during those days. However, that will also be the time when the city’s calli and squares will be most crowded. 

What are the main events?

Celebrations will start with the above-mentioned floating parade on Saturday, February 4th, and continue on the following day with another water parade involving traditional Venetian vessels and captained by the beloved Pantegana (a boat shaped like a giant sewer rat).

Apart from that, the Festa delle Marie – a historic beauty pageant during which 12 young local women are dressed up in Renaissance costumes, paraded throughout the city, and then subjected to a vote as to which of them makes the best Maria – will start on Saturday, February 11th. 

The winner of the contest will be announced in Saint Mark’s Square on shrove Tuesday, the final day of the festival. 

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Why Venice has delayed its ‘tourist tax’ – again

Original Signs, a music and dancing show performed on six floating stages set within the iconic Venetian Arsenal (the former seat of the Venetian navy), will begin on Friday, February 10th, with performances running on a nearly daily basis until the end of the festival.

Original Signs will run alongside Original Sinners, a fine dining experience followed by a masked ball at the magnificent Ca’ Vendramin Calergi, a 15th century palace facing the Grand Canal which is also the current seat of Venice’s Casino. 

As with Original Signs, the event will be available to the public on multiple dates.

Masked revellers wearing a traditional carnival costume pose in St Mark Square, Venice

The historic ‘Flight of the Angel’ will not take place this year due to ongoing work in St Mark’s Square. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP

Aside from major events, street art performances, workshops, exhibitions and seminars will take place at various venues across the city for the entire duration of the festival. Some of these require booking in advance, which you can do on the Venice Carnival official website

On a rather sombre note, the Volo dell’Angelo (‘Flight of the Angel’), the traditional ceremony in which a costumed woman ‘flies’ down a cable from the bell tower in Saint Mark’s Square to the centre of the piazza, will not be performed this year due to ongoing repair work

How busy will it be?

The 2023 edition of the Venice Carnival is expected to mark a “final return to normality”, according to local media.  

And, with just a couple of days to go until the official start of the festival, it looks like the floating city is about to experience pre-pandemic numbers of visitors – current estimates indicate that around half a million people will visit the city over Carnival.

According to Claudio Scarpa, president of Venice’s Hoteliers Association, local hotels “will soon be all but fully booked for weekends”, though large numbers of bookings are also being registered on weekdays, especially those in “the last stages of the festival”.

Given the expected turnout, local transport operator ACTV will enhance their services for the entire duration of the Carnival to avoid overcrowding on buses and water buses. 

For more details about the Venice Carnival and bookings, see the festival’s official website