Italians Celebrate Their Coffee and Want the World to Do So, Too

What do Chinese acupuncture, Irish hurling and the polyphonic singing of the Aka Pygmies of Central Africa have in common?

They are all examples of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity that UNESCO has recognized since it began anointing such things in 2003, racking up more than 500 different practices and traditions so far.

Italy now hopes to inscribe yet another custom to that list: Italian espresso.

“We know very well how important coffee is to Italians, to Italians living abroad and to people around the world who have learned to appreciate something that is also a ritual and an occasion for encounter” and the dissemination of culture, said Maria Chiara Gadda, a lawmaker with Italia Viva, who spoke at a media launch of the coffee campaign in Rome on Tuesday.

Italians do love their coffee. According to the Italian Coffee Committee, a trade group, there are more than 800 coffee roasters in Italy, and more than 150,000 cafes that make espresso. In 2018, Italians consumed 5.9 kilos, or 13 pounds, of coffee per capita.

Stove top Moka espresso machines and coffee capsules do not count. “We have nothing against capsules,” Mr. Caballini di Sassoferrato said. “We aren’t against any type of coffee, we are for our method.”

Though the consortium was founded only in 2014, the Italian affair with coffee dates back centuries, of course.

Venetian merchants began to trade in coffee beans in the 17th century (some historians believe a century earlier), and by 1750 coffee shops had become so popular in Venice that Carlo Goldoni wrote a popular comedy about one, “The Coffee House.”

Their popularity spread.

“I can assure you that it if weren’t for Italian espresso and the social ritual of espresso coffee, Italy wouldn’t exist as we know it,” said Massimo Cerulo, a sociologist at the Università degli Studi di Perugia. “We cannot separate espresso the drink from the social ritual, because it is a routine, a socially shared practice.”

Coffee was also a harbinger of democracy. “The public sphere as we know it was born in coffeehouses,” he noted, adding that Italy had some of the world’s oldest and most beautiful coffeehouses, like Venice’s “Florian,” Turin’s “Al Bicherin,” or Rome’s “Antico Caffe Greco,” which all opened in the 18th century.

“Around a cup of espresso you have the possibility of meeting many people, regardless of status, class, wealth, political ideas,’’ he said. ‘‘It creates a community.”