Italian word of the day: ‘Ammazzacaffè’

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It’s obvious why a coffee is needed after one of those famously large Italian lunches: to stop the abbiocco setting in, or to revive you after a pennichella.

Whether it’s after Sunday lunch with your family or dinner at a restaurant, coffee is seen as so essential that it’s almost part of the meal itself.

It’s just as common for people to follow that shot of strong coffee with a shot of strong alcohol – in order to deaden the caffeine buzz or wash away the taste.

What you may not know is there’s a special term for this after-coffee drink: ammazzacaffè, literally meaning ‘coffee killer’.

In this case, the liqueur will be drunk immediately after the coffee. In some parts of Italy it’s customary to pour it into the same cup you just drank your espresso out of.

READ ALSO: How Italy came to be Europe’s coffee capital

The idea of drinking a coffee to wake yourself up after lunch and then drinking alcohol to take the edge off might leave non-Italians a little bemused, but many people will tell you this is the way things should be done.

And heaven help you if, like I once did, you do it the wrong way round and find yourself being scolded by an Italian waiter.

You won’t make that mistake twice.

If you’re wondering about the origins of this tradition, it supposedly began among the European aristocracy in the 18th century and was soon adopted by the masses – not only as it was seen as a terribly sophisticated habit back in the day, but also because the quality of coffee at the time was poor enough that you really would want to ‘kill’ the taste.

Strongly-flavoured liqueurs like sambuca or grappa were used to rinse the coffee from the palate. 

Nowadays, the habit is still an integral part of many formal (or just large) meals in Italy, but it’s now seen as more about enhancing the taste of the coffee and rounding off a refined evening or afternoon.

Any type of liqueur or amaro may be served, from brandy to amaretto or limoncello, though every region has its traditions and preferences.

Of course, you could just add the liqueur to the espresso (making a caffè corretto).

It goes almost without saying that the coffee drunk after a meal should be an espresso, or caffè normale; you wouldn’t order a coffee with milk, such as a cappuccino, and then follow it with a shot of something alcoholic, unless you wanted to upset everyone else in the room (as well as upsetting your stomach).

And a word of warning: the Italian tradition may be a little more civilised, but if you’re not used to it you might find the effects of an ammazzacaffè aren’t too different to those of drinking a vodka redbull.

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