Trieste’s love affair with coffee dates back to the mid-eighteenth century, when the port was given tax-free status by Habsburg Emperor Charles VI. The resultant boom in port trade coincided with the coffee craze hitting Europe, in particular Vienna, and coffee beans destined for Austrian cafés became one of Trieste’s biggest imports. Even today it’s the leading coffee port in the Mediterranean – forty percent of Italy’s coffee arrives here – and Trieste’s denizens imbibe twice as much on average as their fellow countrymen. One of the pleasures of walking around the city centre is the exotic scent of roasting beans emanating from choice establishments – known as torrefazioni – where experts toast beans to order. The city’s most famous brand is Illy, founded in 1933 and producer of a world-renowned 100-percent Arabica blend. So supreme is the coffee culture in the city that Riccardo Illy, scion of the clan, has held the offices of mayor and regional president, among numerous other posts. Illy offers specialized courses in coffee appreciation at the Università del Caffè (w illy.com).
A word to the wise: coffee terminology in Trieste is a little different from other parts of Italy, and if you order a cappuccino you will end up with a caffè macchiato – instead you need to ask for a latte macchiato or a caffè latte.