If you blog about coffee long enough, you see the same introductory articles about coffee over and over and over (did we mention over?) again. The Internet continually drones with a strange-yet-familiar mantra, where each week you find dozens of newspaper articles, magazine articles, commerce sites, and blog posts that feel compelled to regurgitate the stories of how coffee was discovered, how the first cafés came about, and how to brew espresso. Despite our modern blogs, status updates, RSS feeds, and tweets, humankind’s oral tradition of endlessly repeating ourselves to share information is alive and well even in electronic form.
Case and point with an article about Italian coffee, or simply caffè, which we found in the February issue of La Cucina Italiana magazine: Coffee : La Cucina Italiana. Yet this otherwise over-familiar article noted a couple of cultural references we hadn’t quite heard before — both concerning Italian terminology regarding regional coffee culture.
The caffè sospeso
The first term is the caffè sospeso as used around Napoli. Sospeso is the past participle of the verb sospendere. If that verb looks similar to the English word “suspend”, it’s no coincidence. Caffè sospeso quite literally means “hanging” or suspended (or danging) coffee.
In Napoli, the term describes the extra tazzina of coffee a patron at a caffè might order as a generous offering to the public or to the person directly behind them in line. Arguably, the caffè sospeso is the codified cultural ancestor to Starbucks‘ years-old “pay it forward” guerrilla marketing campaign. Just without the veiled corporate sponsorship to seed these in-store events and then submit the feel-good stories to local news reporters.
The caffè liscio
Although we’re not sure if it is intentional or a typographical error, the magazine article makes reference to a caffè lisco [sic] — which supposedly means a straight espresso. Unless we’re missing something in the local dialect of Italy’s Friuli region, we’re voting for the “typo” explanation — as the term is widely known as caffè liscio throughout much of Italy. By comparison, to order a whisky liscio in Italy is to order a straight (or neat) shot of whiskey.
That and the term lisco cannot be found in even the most detailed Italian dictionaries. (Though as a random and potentially related side note, the Italian word liscoso is used to mean “bony”, typically in reference to fish.) The pronunciation would also be entirely different between the two forms, with the ‘c’ in lisco pronounced with a hard ‘k’ sound and the ‘sc’ in liscio pronounced with a rounded ‘sh’ sound.
Anyway, back to business. The article notes the popularity of alcohol in the Friuli region, which is home to some of our favorite high-end grappa. And given that the caffè corretto (literally “corrected coffee”) is no stranger to grappa and other spirits, apparently the formal term caffè liscio is required in Friuli to ensure your order of a caffè does not pack the surprise punch of alcoholic spirits.
The term caffè macchiato appears to be a regional analog in North America. We’ve previously warned readers about the mistake of ordering an unqualified macchiato in many parts of the Northwest — which can get you a latte macchiato: a disappointing bucket of milk topped with caramel syrup and a hint of espresso flavor.
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