You can order espresso in dozens of ways: corto, a shot made with just a little water, or lungo, a shot made with more water. Ask for a splash of milk or foam and you get caffé macchiato, “marked” coffee and, of course, with lots of foam for classic cappuccino. There are many riffs on caffé corretto, espresso “corrected” with a splash of spirits.
But in addition to the long list of standards, each of Italy’s 20 regions has several specialty coffee drinks little known in the United States.
Here are five of my favorites, including a gorgeous bay leaf-infused spiked espresso, a riff on Negroni, and three iced coffee drinks.
Three-layer Espresso “Float” (Galleggiante)
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This hot coffee drink is popular in the province of Lucca in Tuscany. A shot of espresso “floats” over warm spirits infused with aromatic bay leaf, creating three distinct layers: spirits, espresso and its crema. The bay leaf adds a surprisingly delightful aroma and flavor to espresso.
Ingredients, per serving
2 tablespoons each rum, cognac and Sassolino
1 heaping tablespoon granulated sugar
1 bay leaf
1 thick strip lemon peel, including white pith
1. Combine the spirits, sugar and bay leaf in a heatproof container and heat using the steam wand. Pour into a short glass, reserving the bay leaf for garnish.
2. Carefully place the lemon peel on top of the spirits and set the glass under the espresso machine so the espresso pours onto the lemon, a technique that allows the espresso to “float” on top of the liquor. Insert the bay leaf and serve.
Salento-Style Iced Coffee (Caffé in Ghiaccio Salentina)
This is a shot of espresso served over ice sweetened with homemade almond syrup. Invented in the 1950s in the Salento province of Puglia, it’s still one of southern Italy’s most popular summer drinks.
Homemade almond syrup
Latte di mandorla
Makes 1 quart
2 pounds blanched almonds
4 cups water
8 ounces granulated sugar
1. Grind the almonds, a little at a time, in a mortar and pestle or food processor slowly adding water throughout until a homogenous paste.
2. Let rest, for 3 to 6 hours, stirring occasionally, and then strain through a fine cloth. Discard the almonds. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.
Creamy Espresso Slushy (L’Espressino Freddo)
2 long shots espresso
2 teaspoons granulated sugar, plus more to taste
1 cup whipped cream
2 savoiardi or other cookies, optional
1. Put the hot espresso and sugar in a shaker with several ice cubes and shake until cold. Divide half of the strained cold espresso between 2 martini glasses.
2. Stir the remaining cold espresso into the whipped cream until just combined, spoon over the espresso and serve with a cookie, if you like.
Negroni “AJ” from Florence
Negroni, invented in Florence circa 1919, gets an update in the town of its origin. Created by Italy’s coffee expert Andrej Godina for ditta Artigianale, a cutting-edge new coffee bar in Florence, a shot of espresso is added to the classic cocktail recipe, creating a pleasing hint of bitterness and added depth of flavor and aroma.
1 ounce sweet vermouth
1 ounce gin
1 ounce Campari
1 shot freshly brewed hot espresso
Fill a short chilled glass with lots of ice. Pour the ingredients into the glass and stir well. Top with hot espresso. Garnish with orange slice and lemon peel.
Espresso in a Shaker (Caffé Shakerato)
One of Italy’s most popular ways to enjoy iced coffee north of Rome is shakerato, hot espresso shaken with ice in a cocktail shaker, then strained into a martini glass.
1 long shots freshly brewed espresso
1. Combine the freshly brewed espresso, sweeten to taste with sugar syrup, and 3 to 4 ice cubes into a cocktail.
2. Shake vigorously until cold, about 10 seconds.
3. Strain into a martini glass. Open the shaker, and using a spoon, remove the coffee foam, placing a little on top. Serve immediately.
Main caption: Three-layer Espresso “Float” (Galleggiante) has a shot of espresso floating over warm spirits, infused with a bay leaf. Credit: Antica Locanda di Sesto