Snippets from the Italian Scene
Espresso: Lemon Peel or No?
John recently wrote, 'Being IBM (Italian by Marriage) and unfamiliar with such things, I recently asked my in-laws how the tradition of the lemon peel served with the espresso came to be - they actually didn't know, but did remark that it could be a regional thing, as they had often been served espresso in the homes of Italian friends without the garnish of the lemon peel. Can you supply any details to this topic?'
Unfortunately, not many. The only person I've ever seen drink coffee with a twist of lemon peel in Italy was a young lady who was desperately trying to sober up after drinking entirely too much wine at a beach party -- she claimed she'd heard somewhere that the lemon augmented espresso's restorative powers, but it didn't work for her. Quite the opposite; she became violently ill.
In terms of direct experience, I've never encountered lemon peel & coffee anywhere in the Peninsula, nor have friends from other parts of Italy ever mentioned the possibility. I have seen it in New York's Little Italy, however, when it was served to my father-in-law (we were in the US for the Christmas holidays). He shook his head and it returned to the bartender, as did my mother-in-law's cinnamon-laced cappuccino. So what, do you wonder, do Italians put in their espresso? Purists put nothing at all, and will tell you that caffé amaro, bitter coffee, is the only way to go. Others, myself included, like a bit of sugar, generally about a teaspoon. Another possibility, which is especially nice in the afternoon, is the caffé macchiato, an espresso that's spotted (macchiato means spotted or stained) with a dollop of milk foam from the pitcher that's heated for making cappuccini. The final addition some people make to their espresso is a dash of grappa, cognac, or some other spirit -- this is called a caffé corretto, and is generally drunk by older men.
As for cappuccini, the only addition Florentine bars offer other than sugar is a dusting of cocoa powder. So far as I know this holds true for the rest of the Peninsula as well, at least for now, though a new trend could emerge at any time.
Webweaver, About Italian Cuisine