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Need to cool down in Italy over the summer? Here are some of your best beverage options.
By Eleonora Baldwin
The health and fitness-conscious United States has introduced a wide variety of new juices and smoothies in recent years. Italy picked up on the trend and has since begun busily feeding a wide range of fruits and vegetables into centrifugal presses. The café at my son's school serves carrot, apple, lemon and ginger juice. Moms smile. Kids cringe.
Yet many traditional staples, including freshly squeezed orange juice (spremuta d'arancio) and pomegranate juice, are just as popular as ever. Though cafés and "bars" have expanded their beverage offerings, Italy's list of basics really hasn't changed much over the decades — particularly when it comes to hot weather refreshments.
With summer in store, here's an overview of popular cold beverages and non-alcoholic drinks:
• Tè freddo: Italian-style iced tea bears no resemblance to its North American counterpart. It's usually sugared with lemon or peach flavors, giving it a gooey sweet consistency. Cafés infuse tea bags, sweeten, cool and refrigerate the brew, serving it in medium-sized glasses without ice. It's sweet but not thirst quenching. Some bars offer it flavor-free (liscia) and a few baristas will drop a dollop of lemon granita into the glass, which floats to the surface before melting — the Italian version of the iced tea and lemonade Arnold Palmer.
• Caffè freddo: Cold espresso also gets the sugar treatment, though some places also brew and chill it unsweetened, giving summer patrons a choice. In Salento (the stirrup of the boot in the Puglia region), there's caffè in ghiaccio, a 17th-century Spanish twist concocted as drip coffee enhanced with a lemon twist or a mint leaf and poured over ice cubes or shaved ice. Nowadays, caffè in ghiaccio is made with espresso and ice cubes, sometimes with a drop of almond milk.
• Caffelatte freddo: This is the summer version of breakfast cappuccino or caffelatte (elsewhere often referred to as "latte"). Equal measures of caffè freddo and cold milk are poured into a medium sized glass to accompany morning croissants or other pastries. Caffelatte has laxative properties, so those with weak guts beware.
• Caffè shakerato: A slightly watered down double espresso shaken for several minutes along with ice cubes and sugar, this foamy chilled drink delights Italians. It's served in a Martini glass or a prosecco flûte, and garnished with a toasted coffee bean.
• Crema di caffè: Not properly a beverage, crema di caffè is a velvety coffee-based dessert made with espresso, chilled cream and sugar. It's not sipped, rather served in a demitasse and eaten with a spoon, like gelato.
• Chinotto: Sodas and colas are popular in summer but Italians tend to put vintage drinks first. Chinotto is a good example. It's a curiously flavored carbonated soft drink dating back to the 1950s and made from oranges that grow from the myrtle-leaved orange tree common to the southern Mediterranean. Chinotto's dark appearance is similar to cola but not as sweet, offering a peculiarly bittersweet yet delicate and refreshing taste. In Malta, chinotto is very popular and known as Kinny.
• Gazzosa: Gazzosa (a play on the Italian word for sparkling) is a refreshing lemon-flavored carbonated soft drink that's a healthy, tangy version of 7-Up or Sprite. I remember my parents' Italian friends adding Gazzosa to cheap table wine, a long-lost summer habit. Though the practice is gone, Gazzosa is being rediscovered. I've seen it served with no ice, garnished with a few mint leaves or a licorice stick.
• Spuma: Spuma is a traditional Tuscan soft drink similar to soda pop that tastes vaguely like ginger ale. It was inexpensive summer favorite before globalization introduced so many new brands. I've seen old men playing cards at small mountain village bars in Abruzzo or Tuscany ordering Spuma, using it to top off a glass of beer and calling it miscela, or "mixed."
• Cedrata: Celebrated Italian pop star and icon Mina sang the 1970s jingle that advertised Cedrata, a tangy long drink with a pleasantly gingery aftertaste. Cedrata is made with the syrup from Calabrian citron fruits. Since 1956, the bright yellow drink has been manufactured and marketed by the popular Tassoni brand. Its flavor takes some generations back to their childhoods. That includes me. Every year, drinking Cedrata straight from its small textured glass bottle was a harbinger of the summer to come.
Fish and seafood so exquisitely prepared makes Uliassi a contender for best seafood meal in Italy. Flavors pop, enhanced to their best in imaginative combinations without eccentric excess. Flawless service. The bright, airy interior and outdoor veranda overlook the Adriatic Sea. Basket of exquisite breads (black with sepia ink, onion foccacia). Non-fish eaters might choose game birds or other specials. Champagne pairs well with fish appetizers. Excellent wine selection of whites, plus plenty for red wine enthusiasts: Barbera pairs well with raw fish; or with main courses swish down reasonably priced local and exotically floral Lacrima di Morro D’Alba by Mario Lucchetti. Desserts can be decadent or homemade ice creams like ginger or pistachio. This culinary genius does not come cheap, but the value is excellent. Lunch/dinner. Closed for a week in early or mid-August; check. — Judy Edelhoff
Vinoteca San Marco
Nestled in the hills above Rome, near Frascati (drive out on the Tuscolana). Try the rigatoni al nero di seppia con calamaretti e zucchine. As a main course, the filet of soasi with leek and zucchine is delicate without being boring. Wines are hit and miss. However, a pleasant surprise for bubble seekers: their surprisingly good Spumante Frascati Doc Superiore carried some of us happily through dinner. Winery tours available. Group events by reservation. Lunch served Tuesday-Friday; dinner Thursday-Saturday. — Judy Edelhoff
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The aim of this refined eatery (and enoteca) is to spoil. The antipasto is a meal in itself: Carpaccio with honeydew melon, speck wrapped around generous mounds of ricotta, all on a bed of rucola salad. Skip munching on the crostini and fresh bread to save room for a primo: Scrumptious gnocchi stuffed with sheep’s cheese and zucchini, doused in a delicate cream sauce. Finish with the "cornucopia," a bugle pastry shell stuffed with vanilla cream and fresh berries, brushed with powdered sugar. Lunch groups by reservation only. — Judy Edelhoff