If you visit Turin (Torino), Italy, you’re sure to hear about their famous beverage, Bicerin. First made in the 18th century, the drink must be made carefully so as not to risk mixing the ingredients because deconstructing it as you consume it is half the fun.
Every cafe in Torino will gladly make you a bicerin. But, to get the most authentic experience, go to the place where it was invented, al Bicerin. On the small piazza della Consolata, a small sign above a doorway advertises al Bicerin, which has been in business since 1763.
On Christmas Eve, we wait outside in the cold with a few other pilgrims for a table to open up. After waiting a bit, we are escorted into the cafe where a handful of tables are placed close together. Our big winter coats make maneuvering even more treacherous; you wouldn’t want to commit the faux pas of bumping someone’s table loaded with foamy bicerin, or worse, accidentally dunk your scarf in their drink, so I pull my coat close to my body and shuffle sideways to our table.
We munch on a small plate of beautiful cookies while we wait for our drinks. As I often do, I try to discreetly eavesdrop on the other tables. My Italian is grade-school level, at best, but I can pick out enough words to figure out that these are local people, discussing the Christmas holiday. Plans for meals and Mass celebrations seem to be the most popular topics of conversation. Maybe during other times of the year, the place could be filled with tourists, but after dark on Christmas Eve, we feel like the only Americans within hundreds of miles.
Unlike any other espresso, cappuccino, or cafe americano you might get in Italy, this one is glass mug. That’s so you can see the layers of the bicerin. On the bottom, espresso. A nice, healthy serving. Then, carefully layered on top, chocolate. Not melted chocolate, that would be too thick. Not hot chocolate, that would be too thin. Something in between that lies between the milk and the espresso, temporarily keeping the two lovers apart. And about that milk. It’s whole milk. Not cream. Some places will serve bicerin with whipped cream. That’s fine, no judgement. But, to my taste buds, frothy milk on top makes for the best bicerin.
Of course, you could grab you mug by the handle and start sipping your bicerin. You could, but you’d be wrong. They give you a spoon for a reason. And it’s not to mix the ingredients together like sugar in coffee. You must carefully get the precise amount of milk, chocolate and espresso on your spoon. Some people will work from the side of the glass, pulling the spoon from the bottom to get the right proportion of ingredients. Others might dig a hole in the middle of the cup, pushing some foam aside and working on the chocolate and espresso.
But, no matter how careful you are meting out espresso, chocolate and warm milk, eventually, somewhere near the bottom of the cup, you can’t distinguish the separation of ingredients. At this point, I’ll give up, as the bicerin is lukewarm, and slam down the remains in a single, final gulp.