Florence, Italy– Located in the San Lorenzo Market on the upper level, the Mercato Centrale serves as a place for locals and tourists to shop for fresh produce as well as grab a quick bite to eat. Everything from the meat market, fish market, cheese station and bakery surround the small café with cafeteria-style tables and chairs.
A loud whooshing of a steam wand frothing while the espresso grinder churns the beans into a delicate powder indicates the process of a cappuccino being crafted. Things are more simple here than at Starbucks. Bottles of artificially flavored, sugary syrups are nowhere is sight. You do not choose your coffee size. Rather, espresso—always espresso-sized— is allowed to stand alone among a mere handful of traditional drinks.
The store clerk raises an eyebrow as we order a cappuccino, considered a breakfast drink, after 10 a.m. On his right, a barista turns around, “con zucchero?” she asks. Sugar, for some, can tame the bitterness of a freshly pulled shot.
This approach is not unique to the Central Market café however. On each corner and down every narrow street in Florence espresso is being offered in a uniform fashion. On the upper shelving of each coffee shop, large stacks of liqueur and alcohol bottles impersonate a bar. The Mercato Centrale store clerk explained these as extras to the standard pick-me-up of espresso. He painted the picture of an elderly man who comes in late at night looking to add Sambuca to his drink before heading home. It was rather casual and perhaps just another norm in their espresso driven culture.