Everybody knows Italy is the place to be if you like coffee. Italian tradition offers dozens of different variations on the common espresso. In Piedmont, three are typical – and here’s some information, and a few recipes.
Of the three, the most famous is called bicerin (sometimes written Bicerìn), and is closely connected with the other two.
The Bicerin (pronounced [bitʃeˈriŋ] in Piedmontese dialect, literally “small glass”) is a historical hot drink served in Piedmontese bars and cafés.
The drink was first mentioned in Torino e i Torinesi, a book by Alberto Viriglio, published in 1898. In 2001, the drink was recognised as traditional Piedmontese drink, its new status published in the official literatuire of the regional council.
The bicerin is the evolution of an 18th Century hot drink known as “bavarèisa”, that was served in spherical glasses, and was a mix of chocolate, coffee and cream, with sugar syrup.
The Turin “Bavareisa”
50ml espresso coffee
50ml hot chocolate
In a glass, pour the hot chocolate. Top it with the espresso. Add the cream, stirring softly to produce a foamy surface.
Some add whipped cream.
In the old times, the three ingredients (chocolate, coffee and cream) were served separately, and depending on the customer’s choice, he could enjoy a pur e fiur (basically, today’s cappuccino), pur e barbaé (coffee and chocolate), *‘n poc ‘d tut (a little of everything); this last variant, which mixes all three ingredients, became the standard bicerin. The drink was served with a selection of bagnati (wet, literally) – 14 different kinds of finger cakes to be dipped in the mix. The actual recipe is currently a trade secret of the coffee shop in Turin of the same name, Al Bicerin, founded in 1763 in the historical center of town. The personnel of this establishment has to sign a non disclosure agreement concerning the formula.
Different versions are served in many bars and coffee shops in Turin, but none can claim to follow the true historical recipe1.
The bicerin was the favorite drink of, among others, Camillo Benso Count of Cavour (the man behind the unification of Italy), Pablo Picasso, Alexandre Dumas (pére), Ernest Hemingway (that listed it among the 100 things worth preserving) and Umberto Eco.
A variation on the Bicerin is the Marocchino, that takes its name from the color of a type of leather very popular in the 1930s.
The marocchino (also known as vetrino or espressino in southern Italy) is a coffee variation that originated in Alessandria, as an evolution of Cavour’s bicerin caused by the invention of the espresso machines.
While various variations exist, the basic recipe includes espresso coffee, powdered cocoa and steam-mounted milk, and is served in a small glass cup.
1 espresso coffee
dark cocoa powder
Prepare an espresso coffee. Mount the milk under the steam head of the espresso machine, and then pour it gently in the coffee. Dust with cocoa powder.
- a chocolate & coffee based liquor is also marketed with the name “Bicerin”. ↩