Italian espresso coffee candidate for Unesco Heritage. How is Italy doing with quality?

Jan 30 2022, 08:28 | by Michela Becchi
THE PROPOSAL MADE TO THE ITALIAN NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR UNESCO WILL BE SUBMITTED BY MARCH 31 IN PARIS: THIS IS HOW ITALIAN ESPRESSO COFFEE COULD BECOME AN INTANGIBLE HERITAGE OF HUMANITY.

The Unesco heritage nomination for the “Italian espresso coffee between culture, ritual, sociality and literature in the symbolic communities from Venice to Naples" has been unanimously approved by the Italian Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Forestry Policies. This was announced by agriculture undersecretary Gian Marco Centinaio, who declared himself satisfied with the results: "In Italy, coffee is much more than a simple drink: it is an authentic ritual, it is an integral part of the national identity and an expression of our sociality that distinguishes us around the world". The application to the Italian National Commission for Unesco will be submitted by March 31 in Paris: a candidacy that takes on even greater significance in times of pandemic, that partially halted social interaction, "many of which took place at the counter or at the café table while enjoying good Italian coffee".

Unesco heritage status for espresso coffee: the situation in Italy

One point that is worth dwelling on is the last expression used by Centinaio. What exactly is meant by "a good Italian coffee"? We have already talked about the Italian coffee’s reputation worldwide, also on the occasion of the first Unesco nomination. Undoubtedly this is an important step for Italian culture, but as always, it is appropriate to take a more critical look at the situation: espresso coffee is our history, but the barista profession has gradually lost its value over time. On the other hand, the rest of Europe is adopting a different attitude that focuses on quality and on a correct coffee machine maintenance. Precisely those values that were originally introduced in Italy by Moriondo, Arduino and all the greats who set the standard, invented and perfected the espresso coffee method and the world of coffee bars. Those same values that elected Italian-style coffee famous throughout the world.

Espresso price in Italy

We are talking about specialty coffees, namely quality coffee beans carefully selected, roasted and extracted, but more in general about good coffees, served by competent personnel. In many cities, the beauty of Italian cafés still lasts, as well as the many Neapolitan rituals linked to the cup, but are we sure that this charm of yesteryear is enough to deserve the title of intangible heritage of humanity? The espresso price is another sore point: we are willing to pay more than 1 euro for a cup of tea, a fruit juice, even a bottle of water... why should it be any different with coffee? Espresso coffee in most coffee bars (there are, of course, exceptions) continues to be sold at 1 euro, sometimes even less, thus belittling not only the work of baristas and roasters, but also that of coffee pickers and workers that provide the raw material, fostering at the same time an environmentally and ethically unsustainable supply chain.

Tradition remains, as does the great history of Italian espresso coffee, the cult of vintage cafés, folklore and the many great regional traditions. The past remains, in a nutshell, but for a product that aims for heritage status, it is high time to look to the future.

by Michela Becchi

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