Let’s have coffee!
Prendere un caffè, or “to take a coffee” in Italian, is a different ritual than that other internationals know. Unless it’s after a meal, you won’t often find an Italian sitting to have their coffee. Even then, they down it pretty quickly. Most things here are done slowly. I quote these lax-latinos: “Chi va piano va sano e va lontano, chi va forte va incontro alla morte.” It means that if you take it easy, you’re “sane,” and if you go too fast, you go towards your death. “Piano” is a fulcral part of the dolce vita. Two things I can think of that Italians don’t do slowly are driving, and coffee-drinking. Almost all else is “piano piano” (and this has become one of my recurrent sayings as I embrace the life here) It’s mealtimes in Italy that are meant to be partaken in at a gradual pace, not coffee. Your espresso shots are meant to be had in such a way as the name suggests – shot back with no chasers. Cappuccinos here are downed almost as swiftly. Florence and Italy are becoming more internationally-influenced (piano piano!) though. Sometimes we want to meet a friend for a good chat, flip open a laptop to concentrate on some work or delve into a good book with a warm mug in hand, or have a little brunch to go along with your brew. If you want the Starbucks-style ambiance but without their crap coffee (sorry not sorry…although there is serious talk of Starbucks coming to Italy now!), there are places popping up all around the city where you can swap the mediocre cafe for a quality coffee and sip it as piano-ly as you wish from the comfort of a chair.
Read on to discover some cordial coffee shops in various neighbourhoods of our city.
Around Santa Maria Novella station and Duomo:
Todo Modo – thanks to new pal and fellow blogger Girl in Florence who knows more of more great locales than the lifelong local, I came to know Todo Modo. I’ve walked past it several times thinking it was merely an unassuming little bookshop, but it’s another hidden treasure revealed in this city. Inhale the scent of pressed paper as you walk through the front room full of page-turners until you pick up the aromas of coffee towards the back. Ta-da! Before your eyes is a fabulous little coffee lounge, tables buzzing with sounds of calm conversation and laptop keys. I loved the natural appreciation in the decor, with plant vines drooping down overhead along with books cracked open on the light fixtures. I had one of the freshest pressed-juices ever that was a vibrant ruby red colour, proudly served in a wine glass to style it up (or maybe they just did that because I’m pregnant and pitied that I have held a wine glass in a while). Loose leaf tea sits in tins on the wooden shelves and fresh-baked indulgence is just the lift of a glass cake dome away. The staff seems to be a blasé bunch who will casually chat with you but also other customers, so hopefully you’re unhurried too! But that’s what you’re looking for instead of a quick coffee shot, right? Dolce vita your day.
La Ménagère – effortlessly emitting a sensationally posh, Parisian-scented energy, this place is has been the talk of the town. But what is it? A bar? Resto-lounge? Bistrot? Flower shop? It’s all those things! So many things they dub themselves a “concept restaurant.” It’s larger than most coffee shops and eateries, so you’re almost guaranteed a table, but don’t put your money on it since it’s such a happening hot spot!
If you find yourself grasping the utensils and dreaming of them homing in your own kitchen, fantasize no further – this place is a design shop too. It actually used to be a landmark location for finding Florentine houseware, and La Menagere holds to the heart of its history by selling home design items right here on site.No password is necessary for the wifi, and the coffee comes direct from the barista masterminds at Ditta Artiginale (read about this cafe below), so you know it doesn’t miss a caffeine-injected beat.
ITIT Cafe – I find this place to be a bit overpriced, but I guess they can get away with that when coffee shops such as these are still a rarity. I do like the atmosphere though. You pay for it – each menu item is a little more costly if you decide to have a seat. So make the most of it and grab one of the comfy chairs and a beverage of choice to be enjoyed slowly. The coffee here is nice, made to order in a variety of ways – in your choice of Italian or American fashion. They usually give you some cookies on a plate if you sit down with your drink, but you can opt for a muffin, brioche, donut, or other snack if you’re up for it. There’s an open fridge with other packaged snacks like sandwiches and salads, and lots of choice for beverages. Ask for the wifi password when you order if you want to work a while under those pretty white high-vaulted ceilings.
Arnold Cafe – the most similar to Starbucks in both space and menu. They are the first chain coffee shop in Italy to boast “an American coffee experience.” I saw the first three that opened when I lived in Milan (if any global business opens up in this country, you can pretty much guarantee it will be in Milan first every time). Since living in Florence, they have opened one at a prime location just steps from the station, tacked-on to Piazza Santa Maria Novella. Here you’ll find caramel-drizzled whip atop larger coffee cups with names resembling those you would find at American style coffee bars, but don’t make the mistake of asking for a “white chocolate mocha” at a traditional Italian cafe unless you want to raise some eyebrows. Along with an array of sweets, sandwiches, and salads are several spots to hide out for a while with your selected treats, complete with outlets to charge up those phones and laptops. Here you won’t feel any pressure to be on your way in a hurry. I might grab a chai latte from here now and then, since those are hard finds. Insider tip – there’s a free toilet here, albeit not very clean (I get genuinely excited if I find a clean, no-cost bathroom in this country), but like American style cafes, you can run in to use it senza-purchasing something from them if you’re in need! Naturally, there’s wifi too.
Feltrinelli Red in Piazza Repubblica – this large, modern bookstore is relatively new to Piazza della Repubblica. I sadly missed the days of Edison which was the old bookshop that stood in its place. But they’ve done a nice job making a space for bookworms and movie buffs who want to do a little shopping, with the addition of a cafe area where customers can kick back with a coffee and/or snack for a while. A lunch menu is also available. There’s a newer location at Santa Maria Novella station, which is good for shopping but not so much a sit-down. Shop for some international books, stationary and gift items while you’re at it.
Gucci Cafe – I steered clear of this place when I first moved to Florence, thinking that their swankiness would leave me disgruntled. I’ve discovered it’s quite the opposite! A friendly, attentive staff is ready to serve you either inside their snazzy cafe or outside on their nice patio that has a great view of one of the prettiest piazzas you’ll set eyes upon. Of course your cappuccino will cost a little more than that at your average bar, but that’s because Gucci ain’t average. For some fashionable fun, sugar cubes are in the shape of the Gucci symbol. I believe if you wish to linger a while for some sort of meeting, you should let them know ahead of time, but if you wish to relax with a friend or two or work a while solo, don’t let the suits intimidate you – they’re cool with it. The Firenze Moms4Moms group meets up here too. Contact them if you’re a mamma in Florence to get connected with others! Bonus – very clean washrooms with Gucci baby change tables! The museum I have yet to visit but have heard it is quite interesting.
Amble – immediately warm and welcoming the second you step into the hidden little piazza around the corner from the hustle and bustle of the Uffizi and Ponte Vecchio, let your nerves be soothed by fresh drinks and lunch plates to the tune of Sinatra.
Swarming with locals served by laid-back staff, Amble plays up the trending shabby-chic vintage vibe. Prop your feet up outside on the patio space or find a spot tucked inside the two rooms at one of the unique tables, but don’t stay put there waiting for service. Go to the bar, grab one of the menu cards and tick off your choices for the freshest ingredients in your panino, or opt for a plate of the day. If you just want a warm drink, be prepared to gush over how cute your cups and spoons are, but please don’t pocket them, that’s just not cool (but sadly not uncommon for poor Amble). If you like your seat, it is for sale, so check out the attached price tag if you want it to go home with you!
Astor – smack-centered at the foot of the duomo, many Americani I know will drop in for a coffee-on-the-run. They offer a lot of the mixers (pumpkin spiced latte anyone?) and the big to-go cups. This has more of a pub style atmosphere where you can sink your teeth into a decent burger and catch a sports game. But in the daytime it’s not a bad place to sit, especially if you want to be beneath the duomo on the deck out front. If you’re looking for American coffee to accessorize your stroll in centro with, then this is an option for you. Oh, and they have Dr. Pepper for those of you who miss it.
Reverse Cafe – on a main street Borgo degli Albizi, Reverse switches things up by offering Italian or American style coffee and eats. Americano, soy cappuccino, ice caps and even Nutella milkshakes are at the drink bar, while pastries, pancakes, and yogurt-galore are on the food menu. For being a more modern spot, you might think it to be pricey, but it costs less than others of its kind. Inside or outside you find people reveling in the cool vibe of this place.
Santa Croce / Sant’Ambrogio neighbourhood:
Ditta Artiginale – if you’re a coffee connoisseur, this spot is for you. The owner is literally an Italian Barista champion. Even though Via dei Neri is covered with coffee bars, often costing less, Ditta Artiginale is always busy. Why? They care about giving customers a coffee experience, a caf-education, if you will. Instead of the common Italian coffee shots at the bar not appreciated much more than as a fuel for the day (very necessary fuel to Italians, albeit), Ditta Artiginale wants you to know what’s actually in your cup – the blend, the process, the flavour, all its glorious elements should be appreciated. They have an Italian coffee and International coffee menu to choose from. That means you can choose the brew style – whether you want the straight siphoned espresso, filtered, pressed, you name it. One of my favourite drinks here is the “cappuccino jump” which is a blend of different coffees that gives it a really unique flavour. You can pair up delicious coffee with rare-in-Florence food finds like pancakes, French toast or Croque Monsieur. I had hoped to have my cappuccino with my French toast…but the service here can be unfortunately slow, so don’t be in a hurry. They do happy hour, which I’ve yet to try, so if you hit up Ditta Artiginale for aperitivo, let me know how it is, please!
Andersen Cafe – I was sad when former Mug cafe closed but very pleased to discover this great new cafe took over in this very space! It’s very family-friendly, run by two creative mamma-besties, one Italian and one Scandinavian, who both pay with attention to world-class detail and design, so you know there will be extra TLC in your coffee, tea, cocktail, fresh fruit smoothie or pressed juice. Affordable soup/sandwich/salad combos are plated up for grown ups, but there is also a great menu for little people! I paired a nice Chai Latte with a scrumptious slice of chocolate cake. Clementina explained to us that they are always looking for fresh menu items to change with the seasons, and they use ingredients from the Orti Dipinti garden which I’ve mentioned before. Parents are fully encouraged to chill out while allowing their little ones to freely explore the play area where they can colour, read or imagine away (hey, perhaps you wanna join in on that too), but it’s still a fab place for adults unaccompanied by babes to unwind too. But why wouldn’t you appreciate the sound of children’s laughter and sight of their innocent smiles now and then when you peer up from your book or computer?
Quelo Bar – a stone’s throw away from Andersen Cafe, seriously right next door, with an eclectic environment and accommodating staff. If you’re into an artsy ambiance to relax in with your coffee, this is where you want to head to. You won’t find a wide selection of coffee and tea, but you will find quality menu items. They tend to mix things up more with their cocktails, alcoholic and non, as well as their food menu. Though both bars, Quelo and Andersen are on a street just down a few meters from Santa Croce church, they are a bit hidden from the beaten path, so mainly locals are clients, or visitors who have been filled in on these gems by locals! That being said, Quelo is on the smaller side and can get pretty packed at lunch time, so if you’re here with your laptop or Moleskin for some focus time, come morning or post-lunch hour. Quelo also has a good, cheap, vegan-friendly aperitivo.
Le Vespe – almost every time I’m here I think to myself, “if only it were a little bigger,” to offer more space to customers who want to stay put for a while, but if it were, it would quickly lose some of its charm. Le Vespe is where you go for a big cup of Joe, a fruity smoothie…which you can add alcohol too, if it’s one of those days (that’s a mimosa in the photo). Lots of American-style favourites on the drink and food menu: iced tea, lemonade, flavoured coffees, pancakes and bacon, and banana bread. There are lunch options like quesadillas, soups and salads, along with the increasingly-seen vegan options. If you feel like challenging someone to a friendly game of Battleship or other board game, snatch one from one of the shelves or inside the retro suitcases and it’s game on.
L’Arte del Sogno – a warmly-smiling employee will greet you in this haven of furniture finds that they themselves have restored to new life or got from local artisans. This place really does care about your dreams – they even ask you to add them to the “dream tree” on the wall in the back room. So pick a pretty chair and grab a piece of paper to add to the tree as you indulge in one of their delicacies which are sure to inspire a daydream made reality right there. Ever-changing but always scrumptious layered cakes, cupcakes, brownies, and of course some tasty eats in the savoury department as well, many of which are vegan. Don’t forget the coffees and teas – this small cafe has a big selection. Aside from the traditional cafe menu, there are several loose-leaf teas that they acquire from Peter’s Tea House in Santa Maria Novella neighbourhood, hot chocolate blends, and a “gli sfiziosi” menu, meaning “delicious,” coffee blends with your choice of nutella, chocolate, caramel, or even go for coffee-doused pistachio ice cream topped with chocolate, or vanilla and strawberries. Salivating yet? Don’t droll on the decor; it could be yours or the next for purchase if you want to take that home with you.
Le Murate Caffè Letterario – a former prison, this place is a sweet hideout, especially on a sunny day since the courtyard is so spacious and interesting to lounge in. Stroll down one of the corridors in the complex, complete with old prison doors, and find a bookshop to grab a good read and crack it open in the outdoor patio area or chill inside. By night this space hosts musical and dramatic performances, poetry readings, or just a good aperitivo.
Mama’s Bakery – BAGELS. This Canadian was thrilled to discover bagels here, and even more pleased to hear that the owner actually went to Montreal to study the art of making them, transporting learned recipes back to Florence for your enjoyment and mine. With an assortment of American-flavoured delights for your mouths to take your brain to a Big Apple bakery and several seats to enjoy them in, you can get large cups of Joe (that’s the American kind, you actually won’t find cappuccinos on their menu) to grasp on to as you get though a good book , study or chat. There’s outdoor seating and a small play area for kids.
Stadium / Campo di Marte / Le Cure:
Dolci Pensieri – a new locale close to home for me, I adore this darling shop with its perfect name meaning “sweet thoughts.” A recent addition to the Le Cure neighbourhood, this cafe is quaint and charming. They have an in-house pastry chef who is constantly contriving new and delectable treats, not only for humans, but for canines. One of my favourite pastries in the lemon-earl grey cake along with a tea from Via del Te. The staff here is so kind and courteous, and they are totally cool with you parking in their lovely space for a while. It’s cash only here folks, but there is a bancomat across the street if you forgot (and they trust you to come back with your cash). There’s also a great park called Area Pettini close by if you’re around with little ones or want to spread out in some grass to relax a while, as mentioned in my post about green spaces in the city here.
Caffè Lorenzo Pasticceria – bordering Campo di Marte and Le Cure, this is another nice coffee bar that is new to the scene. The long pastry window displays will drop your jaw (bet you can’t have just one) and the scent of several gourmet coffee blends to choose from will tickle your nose. I’ve frequented this bar for the outrageously good sweets and cafe with friends, but probably wouldn’t choose this cafe to get work done in. There is only one room and a few tables, and it can get quite busy, full of happy locals! They also serve light lunch plates and apericena.
So as you can see, there are actually plenty of places in Florence where you can chillax, international style! The options are only increasing.
Where’s your favourite coffee shop in Firenze?