ou might think that coffee is just coffee, but additives and preparation methods vary all over the world. Whether your additive of choice is cow’s milk, plant milk, sugar, spices, salt, cream, ice cream or just a nice biscuit to dunk, it seems there’s almost nothing someone hasn’t tried at some point. In Italy, though, they’ve taken it to a whole different level.
Popularised in the 18th century, bicerin is ubiquitous in the Italian town of Turin. The name itself means ‘little glass’ in Piedmontese (a diminutive of bicchiere meaning glass), and that’s how it’s traditionally served. Similar to a miniature Irish coffee, part of the appeal is visual, with clearly defined layers of very dark brown through to cream.
Possibly the world’s most indulgent drink, the layers are made up of chocolate, espresso and cream or whole milk. Fortunately it’s normally served in tiny shot glasses, so you don’t need to feel too guilty!
It combines fresh, strong espresso coffee as the first layer, with thick Italian drinking chocolate. If you’re making it yourself, melt some good quality dark chocolate (70% cocoa solids) with enough milk to make it liquid without being running. Pour the chocolate over the back of a spoon to create the layers, then top with a layer of either foamed whole milk or gently whipped cream. Again, pouring the milk or cream over the back of a spoon will help create a distinct layer.
If you drink it carefully, you can sip the thinner liquid of the coffee through the chocolate layer to get the full flavour hit. Otherwise, mix it all up with a spoon for a sort of ultra-sophisticated hot chocolate!
To get the full experience, you can visit the ‘home’ of bicerin, the Caffè al Bicerin itself in Turin. It’s been serving the drink for over 200 years, and may even have invented it.