Here in the grand old Northern Italian city of Milan, it takes on average around thirty seconds from the moment you order “un caffe” until you’re greeted by a demitasse served alongside an ornate basket of sugar. Between the Castello Sforzesco and the Duomo Di Milano, there are countless opportunities to order an espresso – turns out I was able to blow through around 8 in an hour. This is a world where each shot will set you back one euro, the median age of your bar person is 45, Caffe Si is king, and the cafes themselves are primarily distinguished by the size of their chandeliers.
Welcome to espresso in Milan. But first…
Good morning: “buongiorno”
Espresso: “un caffe”
(at this point put one euro on the counter)
Thank you: “grazie!”
Cafe De Ville (Via Dante 16)
For the purpose of this cafe crawl, I took a taxi from my hotel and hashed out directions with my cabbie. Armed with a map, I pointed to Castello Sforzesco and stated, “voglio andare a lì” which translates roughtly to “I want to go to there.” The cab dropped off at an enormous fountain next to the castle, and I knew that if I walked towards Duomo Di Milano (the main church of Milan), I’d find cafes. My walkabout began by me following a large tourist group of Canadians walking down Via Dante, away from the castle, and Cafe De Ville was the first place I ran into. This place is spacious and advertises “living room seating” inside. TripAdvisor and Yelp reviewers have not been kind to this place – the most generous reviewer gave it two stars – but that was for the food, and that’s not why I’m here. All I want is un caffe. Pronto.
The bartender is well-dressed (they all are), and my single espresso arrives in a little more than forty seconds (I clocked it). The barkeep used the other half of my shot to make a macchiato for a road worker wearing a bright neon vest. The shot needs some dressing up—and this is quite socially acceptable to do here—so I gingerly added 6 grams of sugar to my 7 grams of espresso. Glug glug, it goes down sweet and hot, and “ciao” I’m out the door.
Majestic Cafe (Via Dante 15, next to the Foot Locker)
The bartender at Majestic Cafe pointed toward the bag of Caffe Si (warning, their web site plays smooth jazz) and said to me, in plain english: “Best coffee in the world.” Awesome! I’ll take it. Was it was his enthusiasm for Caffe Si that made the shot taste so good? Or maybe it was his aerodynamic look. Regardless, everything about the experience was great, especially the espresso, which was sweet on its own, with a bit of fruit in the cup. And the best part? My shot arrived 45 seconds after I ordered it. Who has time to wait?
Caffe Dante (Via Dante 15, one door down from Lush, two doors down from the aforementioned Majestic)
By this time, I was getting the hang of it. “Buongiorno, un caffe,” I told the no-nonsense barkeep, and by the time I took the lens cap off my camera the espresso was ready. This bar had bottles of grappa directly at eye level, and let me tell you, we here at Sprudge.com adore a fine caffe corretto, but it was 8:15 in the morning, and honestly? This shot of espresso didn’t need corretting. The rumors are true: Northern Italian espresso can be really nice, as can the wait staff. The three working behind the bar at Caffee Dante were particularly courteous.
Caffe Milano (Via Dante 13/15)
Talk about streamlined: Caffe Milano features two big counters to the left and right upon entry, serving different kinds of food with a pastry case in the center. This was the first place I visited with a cash register up front, which means you walk in, pay your euro, take the receipt to the bartender, and boom, boom, boom. You’ve got your espresso. Bang, slurp, good, sip, molto buono, grazie, ciao, back on the street.
Caffe Sforzesco (Via Meravigli 2)
All class, this place. You can tell by the big chandelier, the giant cup full of sugar up front (love that look), and are you seeing this guy? With the bow tie? Unstoppable. Un caffe—hey, that’s a Dalle Corte Evo behind the bar—boom. My espresso? Lovely. No sugar, grazie. Next!
But before we go, Sforzesco really was an aesthetic highlight on my crawl. I just love the look and feel of all these open pastry on plates. How many espressos have I had?
By this time, I’m starting to sweat. I’m halfway between the castle and the church. Look out for cars and trolleys.
Aperol Caffe (Piazza Cordusio)
Ooh, Aperol Cafe. An aperol spritz sounds lovely at this point, a little booze to counteract my caffeine crazies. You pay the man at the door, walk to the back, and get your espresso. It took my bartender no more than twenty seconds to produce the shot, and like most of the shots on this crawl, it was surprisingly complex, sweet, and juicy. But really, how many shots have I consumed? I’m not 22 anymore, I can’t just consume all this coffee. This manner of self-abuse must be answered for.
Caffe Martini (Via dei Mercanti)
This gentleman was by far the youngest bartender out of all the cafes I visited, and the shot he pulled me was a little thin, in need of sugar. Is that Beyonce playing? Caffe Martini is super cute, because it looks tiny at first, but then you look up and there’s all this adorbable seating on the lofted second floor. I loved it, but I didn’t love my shot. Also I am literally vibrating at this point from caffeine.
Caffe Mercanti (Via Mercanti 21)
Final stop, just steps away from the Duomo plaza. I have a theory, based on an admittedly small sample size, but a theory nonetheless: in Milan, the closer you get to the Duomo, the more unpleasant your espresso experience will be. Maybe it was the carnal imbalance of caffeine-to-food in my system, maybe it was the dude who threw keys on the floor in the direction of the woman mopping, ordering her to hurry up, but the whole thing was a little tedious.
Before I could take a proper picture of the interior, a man barked at me to pay. It was not the finest service experience, but whatever, I had made it to the Duomo, consuming no fewer than eight espressos in one hour, and it was time I made it back to the Dalla Corte Loft to begin the second day of DC Campus.
I find a taxi stand just a block away from Mercanti. Taxi, taxi! Pronto, pronto!