Italy’s Greatest Coffee Drink

I know. “Italy’s Greatest Coffee Drink” is a bold statement. But, the first time I sipped a Bicerin, I knew I’d just experienced Coffee, Chocolate, and Cream nirvana.

 Bicerin at Caffe al Bicerin, Turin, Italy (photo: Brent Petersen)

In the 17th century there was a similar bev, even if it was infinitely inferior. Uncouth barbatians mixed the Coffee, Chocolate, and Cream together, calling their concoction Bavarèisa. 

Then, the darkness lifted and Caffe al Bicerin began offering each ingredient of the Bavarèisa separately, with the Espresso, Cream, and Chocolate each offered in its own cup. Miraculously, this masterpiece of beverages was improved when, in 1804, the preparation changed into what is now known as the Bicerin. The Drinking Chocolate, Espresso, and Cream were carefully poured into a cup to make three distinct layers, rather than the culinary crime of combining all three.

The Bicerin is served in a clear mug with a spoon, but don’t stir it! You’re not a monster.

The Bicerin became incredibly popular in Turin, Italy, especially with parishioners leaving services at the Sanctuary of the Consolata, which is just across the Piazza della Consolata from Caffe al Bicerin.

The best part is, the elegant Caffe al Bicerin is still open and still makes a fabulous Bicerin, which you must get with cookies like the Turin specialty Baci di Dama (Kiss of a Lady). The cafe is tiny, with only a few tables, so waiting outside in the chilly winter air of Turin is likely, and only adds to the comfort of the Bicerin when you finally get a seat.

And don’t be an oaf like me. Remove your heavy coat as you enter so as to not make the unforgivable faux pas of jostling someone else’s cup of comfort.

The Bicerin is served in a clear mug (to see the layers) with a spoon, but don’t stir it! You’re not a monster. Drink it slowly so you a taste of each individual ingredient with each sip.

Comparing the Bicerin at different cafes in Turin is time well spent. Judging the ingredients and the skill of various baristas can take several delicious days.

In addition to Caffe al Bicerin, Cafe Fiorio is a classic Piedmontese coffee house. The cafe first opened in 1780 and was gathering place for writers, politicians, and intellectuals who weren’t lactose intolerant and liked to discuss the important ideas around Italian unification. So important was this place that politicians would often gauge public opinion by asking “what is being said at Fiorio?”

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