Italian Food Rules – Italians Only Drink Tea When They Are Sick

Tea drinkers of the U.K. and the U.S. might as well give up the idea of a good “cuppa” in Italy. Italians only drink tea when they are sick – at home.

You can ask for, and receive, hot tea in a coffee bar. First, the barista will give you a searching glance from a distance to see if you are obviously infectious. Then, he will run some hot water out of the coffee machine into a cappuccino-cup. The water will be unfiltered tap water, which may taste great, but in Florence, for example, is highly mineralized, a taste hidden easily by coffee, but not by tea. And, having passed through the coffee machine, the water will have the odor, if not the taste, of stale coffee.

The water may or may not be of sufficient temperature to brew tea from the generic tea bag (or, perhaps, Liptons in an upscale bar), still wrapped in its paper cover, resting in the saucer of the rapidly cooling cup of water.

Bring your favorite tea cup and tea with you to Italy
Bring your favorite tea cup and tea with you to Italy

If you go out to dinner at the home of an Italian friend, carry your own tea bags. Their cupboards will only contain chamomile tea bags or tisane della salute. Also, be prepared for the sympathetic look and an inquiry about how long you have been feeling “under the weather.” Finally, they may not have cups for tea, only tiny cups for espresso. A water glass can substitute for a teacup, but don’t fill it too full; only the top edge will stay cool enough to touch.

As for your own vacation rental in Italy: plan to bring an electric kettle, a Brita pitcher with filters, and your favorite tea. In cities, specialty grocery stores will carry good tea, but at high prices.

You can buy a beautiful Tuscan ceramic tea cup to take home
You can buy a beautiful Tuscan ceramic tea cup to take home

To avoid those sympathetic looks and the defensive self-doubt that will grow each time an Italian asks “Prendiamo un caffè?”, think up a snappy reply.  As a foreigner, you will be given a pass. Imagine a tea-loving, coffee-hating Italian – his life would be like being a vegetarian at a Texas barbecue … every single day of the year.

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

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12 thoughts on “Italian Food Rules – Italians Only Drink Tea When They Are Sick

  1. Love it! I remember getting that weird look when I asked for tea in a coffee bar…I wanted iced tea and I asked for a glass of ice. The barista gave me a strange look and then when he saw I was making iced tea, he nodded appreciatively but then showed me the bottles of iced tea he had for sale…but I don’t like iced tea made with syrup. I liked brewed iced tea. 🙂

  2. But…but…but – there are all of those lovely Peter’s Teahouses in Italy! I first discovered Peter’s in Verona, the shop moved and I have seen its new location, and we have passed the (always closed) Florence outpost on several occasions. Then I found the one in Venice where we always shop because it’s our last place to visit and so less to lug around. They have such lovely teas and tea accessories, and the place is always packed with what seems to be local folks.

    I wouldn’t order tea to drink while there but always purchase lots of the Principessa Sissi Tè nero with its apricot aroma.

  3. Chris, you are absolutely correct. Peter’s Teahouse has the best tea … but very expensive. It’s the only place for Italian tea lovers to pick up quality supplies — although a quick Ryanair flight to London may be less expensive. Thanks for you comment.

  4. My mother was from a small town outside of Lucca. I can attest that the only time we drank tea WAS when we were sick. It was tea with lemon. I, along with my sister and brother, drank coffee at a early age. I still drink coffee and only drink tea when I don’t feel well. My hubby drank tea when we were dating but I got him on the coffee band wagon and for the past 35 years, he only drinks tea when he doesn’t feel well!

  5. One of our (north) Italian friends always has chamomile tea when we have tisanes/tea. He says it has good memories associated with it because it’s what his mother always gave him when he was young.

  6. B.S. There are lovely tearooms in Italy. Maybe you should check on your facts a little more before making such bold statements.

  7. “Tea drinkers of the U.K. and the U.S. might as well give up the idea of a good “cuppa” in Italy. Italians only drink tea when they are sick – at home.” ….. Hmmm. To the best of my knowledge, Americans almost never drink hot black tea — the type taken with mil and sugar. They drink iced tea and herbal tea.

  8. We were informed that cafés, hotel breakfast rooms, etc. in Italy will not actually make tea—by employees who instead bring a pot of water with a teabag sitting beside it. Mind you, in places we have visited in the USA, the same policy applies: make your damned tea yourself. Then tip the waiter.

  9. We were served tea after dinner in a hotel in Assisi. The tea had been made in a large jug (must have been at least one litre). It consisted of the jug filled with hot water with one tea bag dangling in it. I am not a tea drinker. However, my husband is. We found it quite unbelievable. (Yes, that’s right, ONE tea bag). I tried to explain to the waitress that a jug that large needed more than just one tea bag. She looked at me as if I was quite mad. The next morning when we came down to breakfast, there was an ever so slight improvement with the tea making. This time the same jug had TWO tea bags in it. (Yes, TWO tea bags) Probably needed at least six tea bags at least to make tea with any strength.

  10. Most American tea is iced, but on the other hand it is normal to be offered tea or coffee as a hot option. Crappy tea bags next to luke warm water are common, but so are tea kettles, tea pots and “tea indulgences” of every kind. Italy is definitely more coffee -centric. Right now we are staying at the rental apartment of a lovely family, who have done everything in their power to think of the least little thing to make foreign visitors comfortable. There are three different coffee makers (including of the “American” drip variety) and three different sized coffee cups but not a single tea pot, tea kettle or similar.

  11. ahahah fantastic! I’m an Italian tea lover… thank you for empathy!

    Really, it is exactly as you described… figure out when I ask for hot tea in summer in my city on the coast!!! (I obviously use my own tea bags filled by myself) People in the Bar say in a whisper “He is creazy!”

    Anyway, as a tea lover, I can also give you a gibe concerning tea. The great part of U.K. and USA people drink low quality tea-bag filled with CTC or dust indian black tea… or blended with any sort of essence or herbs… we have clear the difference from a tisana and a tea in italy, but you usually named “tea” also rooibos and chamomille 😉

    They are few tea houses in italy, but please visit them… usually they have great selections 😉

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