Savoring Italy’s Caffè Capital: Trieste

At dusk in this northeastern Italian city, everything turns pink.

The water of the Grand Canal, flowing inland from the Adriatic Sea toward a waterfront statue of James Joyce, reflects the slanting light. The white Habsburg facades, remnants of Trieste’s former glory as an Austro-Hungarian port, blush in the hazy sun.

Men in suits and flat caps gather along the docks of the canal, where elegant women in furs leash greyhounds. The hour for caffè—Trieste is home to the famous coffee roasting company Illy, after all—slides seamlessly into the time for aperitivo: wine, and small plates like thick bread topped with local cheese.

Elsewhere in Italy, locals down espresso on the go, but Trieste is a city for lingerers. The ornate, wood-paneled “grand cafés” here honor the legacy of Vienna, not Rome. Though the city has a complicated history—it belonged to Italy, Austria, Germany during World War II, Yugoslavia, and finally Italy again.

Trieste is particularly proud of its literary legacy. James Joyce finished writing Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in this city; novelist and Trieste native Italo Svevo was a regular at the century-old Caffè San Marco—adorned with frescoed muses and bronze-painted coffee leaves—where today a man in a sweater-vest scribbles on his companion’s manuscript with a red pen. Here, many of the senior professors at the city’s university have their own tables reserved.

Coffee in Trieste has a language of its own: You order not espresso but nero, not cappuccino but a capo in tazza grande. Those not looking for caffeinated cups ask for a deca.

I should leave to catch my train; instead, I order another drink. In Trieste, I have learned, there is seldom any rush.

This piece, written by Tara Isabella Burton (on Twitter at @NotoriousTIB), first appeared in the April 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine. 

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  1. PaulAdMaiora
    Trieste, Italy
    November 2, 2015, 8:35 pm

    @Jacomo It’s part of Italy, get over it. For everyone else TLT, which mr. Jacomo here is apparently a sympathizer, is a small separatist movement from the last years of people who would like to separate Trieste from Italy. Is an article about coffee the right place to write about your political agenda?

  2. Jacomo
    Free Territory of Trieste
    June 17, 2015, 8:28 am

    Trieste is NOT currently part of Italy, but a sovereign Territory currently only administered (quite badly) by it. Get your facts straight!

    more info:

  3. Mary
    Mi Clio
    May 20, 2015, 12:02 pm

    Yes it is said that James Joyce spent more than 15 creative years in Trieste between 1904 and 1920. In 2014 I travelled in Europe and had the pleasure of visiting both Dublin Ireland and Trieste (yes I am a big James Joyce fan) in Dublin we visited this restaurant as well and it was lovely and in Trieste we stayed in the aptly named James Joyce Hotel!

  4. Kate Jones
    May 12, 2015, 3:26 am

    Huh! Italy is my favorite destination… so much memories…
    This is the places I preferred the most

  5. Noor ul Elmah Hasan
    May 1, 2015, 9:23 pm

    wonderfully written informative article .