Building Sustainable Lives guide (1)
A love of coffee is part of Italian culture and part of the daily ritual for Italians. Visit any coffee bar throughout the day from early morning on the way to the office, at mid morning, lunchtime, during the afternoon or on the commute back home in the evening; you will see Italians taking a swift coffee at the bar. It is rarely a languid pastime, but if sitting is your preference while chatting with a friend or colleague, then you can do so, only the price paid is different for seating and service, but the coffee is just as delicious and is the same.
On a recent visit to Rome we adopted this daily ritual at our local bar (with photos of Ingrid Bergman doing the same thing in the same spot over 50 years ago), standing at the bar for a fantastic morning Cappuccino served in an opaque glass cup and saucer. At just 1 Euro it was also great value.
All the coffee bars in the city were busy with locals and tourists, so service had to be swift, coffee hot and served at the optimum, and the use of paper cups to ‘take-out’ a coffee was nowhere to be seen.
The cups used by all the bars were also warm from just being taken out of the washer, so this enhanced the flavour of the coffee, The coffee served was downed efficiently by busy Italians on their way to work, often drunk in one straight hit, and then they were off to their busy lives.
Economically, the business case for using reusable and washable cups provided at the point of sale is strong too, at 1 Euro the coffee is great value and affordable to all, the cups provided are washed and re–used until they reach the end of their natural life when they can be recycled, downcycled or broken down as they are biodegradable. Costs of production are also reduced without buying or shipping paper or polystyrene cups that are only used once and take up large amounts of space in recycle bins and landfill.
The other great initiative in Italy when buying your daily coffee is called ‘caffe sospeso’, or suspended coffee. When you buy your own coffee, you pay for another. The other is then given to someone else during the day who asks for a caffe sospeso. Technically, anyone can ask for one, but the general principle is that it is for those ‘down on their luck’. It is a random act of kindness, or social philanthropy in action, which again is accessible to all, and takes little time or money from the donor but is effective at the point of delivery and reaches those it is intended for. It also puts the trust and goodwill into the café owner, so also helping to build the feeling of a local community for all.
The other upside to drinking your coffee swiftly or slowly in situ, is there is no marching next to someone on a busy road, or standing next to someone on the bus or Metro with a coffee precariously balanced in one hand while checking messages with the other, hoping that it does not drip down your back as we take each sharp bend or corner!
In the UK where we are based, coffee culture has grown rapidly over the past few years, and it is estimated that 2.5 billion ‘paper’ coffee cups a day a being thrown away in the UK every year, or around 7 million a day. It is also estimated that less than 6 million cups are being recycled each year, which is 0.25 of 1%, (just 1 in 400) or less than one day’s worth. Despite the best intentions of those purchasing and drinking them, many of these cups are not able to be recycled, and then take up large amounts of space in landfill where they often end up, if not incinerated. Taking your own ceramic cup along for a coffee is a noble and worthwhile effort to be encouraged for the regular coffee drinker, but carrying around a used cup or not having the cup with you is often the reality for another impulse coffee during the day.
Sustainable and stylish?
I think that we could embrace the Italian style of coffee drinking, without sacrificing our experience or speed of journey, as the fact too is that coffee tasted so much better out of a proper cup. Can we change behaviour and revive a trend that started in the UK in the 1960’s, when coffee bars were the most fashionable places to go to. We can be both sustainable and stylish and help the community too.