One of the favorite things to do in Turin is to walk along the luxurious covered passageways and enjoying a succulent Bicerin coffee is one of the highlights of this royal routine.
A succulent drink locals adore, the bicerin coffee is prepared in many places in Turin, but apparently, you can enjoy the best one where it was first invented in 1763, Caffè Al Bicerin. Serving the original recipe from early morning to the local regulars and the curious tourists, this small café attracts all day long as many customers as it can accommodate.
After doing some research, I started craving a bicerin and really wanted to try it there. So finally on my last day in Turin, right before catching my train to Rome, I made my way to Caffè Al Bicerin facing the historical Santuario della Consolata church and ordered my treat.
But apart from its hearty texture and flavor, what is it that makes bicerin coffee so popular in Turin? Here is our easy guide to enjoying and knowing more about this famous drink that is perfect to enjoy if you are in Italy in December.
Check out our post on how to order coffee in Italy!
History of the bicerin coffee in Turin
As soon as you enter Caffè Al Bicerin (Piazza della Consolata 5), you will feel like whirling back in time, to some centuries ago nonetheless. Its founder, Giuseppe Dentis, was famous for its refreshing drinks. When Dentis opened Caffè al Bicerin in 1763, it was a fully women-run cafe set in the palace facing Santa Consolata church welcoming hungry guests in a simple decor of wooden tables and benches.
In 1856, architect Carlo Promis designed the palace where our Al Bicerin Caffè was launched and decorated it how we see it today. The white marble tables are surrounded by walls covered with wooden panels, mirrors, and lamps, the balky counter is made of wood and marble, and coffee blends, confetti, and colorful candies are accommodated on large shelves.
There are many places in Turin where you can order the bicerin, but this is where it was invented and arguably still serves the best version of all the ones available across the city.
The recipe of Turin’s drink Bicerin is actually an evolution of another drink, 18th-century “bavareisa”, made with coffee, chocolate, milk, and sweetened with syrup. Finally, it was served in large cups, very trendy back then.
According to the original Bicerin ritual, the three ingredients were supposed to be served separately, but already in the 19th century, they started to mix them in the same glass and serve them in three versions: pur e fiur (similar to today’s cappuccino), pur e barba (coffee and chocolate) and ‘n poc ‘d tut, meaning “a bit of everything”, so with all the ingredients.
The latter was the most popular version and the one that reached our days just like this. Its name comes after the small glass (“bicchiere” in Italian) without the handle in which it was served, known as bicerin.
The initial price for this drink was three coins, translating into 15 cents of Lira. This lasted until December 5th, 1913, when it was brought to 20 cents. In his “Torino e i torinesi”, Alberto Viriglio reports that “For only 20 cents you can have the classic little glass that makes for a nutritious snack”.
A favorite among notables and VIPs
The bicerin coffee became so popular among locals that other bars and coffee shops didn’t wait too long to start preparing and serving it. Soon enough, it became one of Turin’s favorite snacks.
An old city guide by Stefani-Mondo titled “Torino e i suoi dintorni” reports that “it’s the morning favourite drink: ministries, judges, professors, retailers, delivery men, basket makers, street vendors, countrymen and more, they all gladly spend three coins to inexpensively fill their stomach”.
This tasty coffee drink, to be enjoyed strictly in the morning before 12 pm, quickly became a trend among notables and celebrities. Some who are known to be fans of the bicerin coffee from Turin were the Italian Queen Maria Josè and King Umberto II, French novelist Alexandre Dumas, Italian composer Giacomo Puccini, and German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. In more recent times, American actress Susan Sarandon was seen to be enjoying the drink that had become by then Turin’s culinary symbol.
But that’s not all! Apparently, American writer Ernest Hemingway was very fond of Turin’s bicerin and so were Spanish painter Pablo Picasso and Italian writer and philosopher Umberto Eco.
According to old tales from Italy’s former capital, statesman Camillo Benso Count of Cavour, a central figure of the Italian Risorgimento, enjoyed sipping his bicerin coffee while waiting for the royal family on a visit to Santa Consolata sanctuary. Unlike the Savoys, Cavour was known to be quite anticlerical and secular, so instead of accompanying them inside the church, he would rather grab a table at the cafe facing the entrance.
The customers of Caffè Al Bicerin were often church-goers who poured there hungry after the Mass or even during Lent because the warm chocolate was not considered “food” so it could be had without the need to feel guilty or sinful.
Don’t miss our article on how to enjoy a perfect Italian breakfast.
A women’s place
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the bars and coffee shops of Turin were mainly a place for men and women were seldom seen. Al Bicerin, however, was groundbreaking.
Run by an all-women team and close to a church, Turin’s female population felt more comfortable and protected visiting and being seen alone there without their husbands or men relatives. They would often break their fasting after the religious functions they attended at the nearby sanctuary by dunking tiny butter cookies in their bicerin coffee.
Always known for its gentle style, this was the place where ladies could relax without feeling stared at.
As their official website reports, from 1910 to 1975, Al Bicerin was managed by Ida Cavalli together with her sister and her daughter Olga, who took it over when her mother retired. The Cavalli ladies were well-known in Turin for welcoming their guests as if in their homes and for taking care of broke intellectuals in need of shelter from the freezing winter temperatures.
In 1983, Marité Costa took over the management of the famous bar and brought it to international attention. By digging deep into the history and taste of chocolate as well as Turin’s traditional recipes, today this coffee shop is renowned all over the world, won several awards and in 2001 was named Italy’s best bar by the prestigious food magazine Gambero Rosso.
Where is the best bicerin coffee in Turin?
Apart from the famous Al Bicerin Caffè, there are many places in Turin where you can find a great bicerin coffee. Some will serve the closest version to the original tradition, some will treat you with an original recipe stemming from the barista’s creativity and a more contemporary approach. In the end, it’s all about your preferences.
Some of the other places where you can find a great bicerin are the historic Caffè Torino and the century-old Pasticceria Stratta pastry shop in the scenic Piazza San Carlo. For a gluttony take, you can try it at the old Gelateria Pepino (Piazza Carignano 8) or at Caffè Mulassano in the central Piazza Castello. Here the bicerin coffee is served in two variations, none of them following the traditional recipes but if you are into trying new twists, you can give it a try.
How to make a perfect bicerin coffee in 5 easy steps
So you are back from Turin and the one thing you can’t get out of your head is the velvety sensation of starting your morning off with a warm coffee royal-style. Especially when fall starts and brings cold and rainy mornings, there is nothing better than preparing your own drink.
While I will try to give you instructions and ingredients to make it as close as possible to the traditional treat, it’s not possible to perfectly reproduce it. The very original recipe, in fact, is still a secret as the exact doses were never made public by the place that first invented it, our historical Caffè Al Bicerin.
The star of the show is dark chocolate, but other important ingredients include coffee, milk, and fresh cream.
Ingredients for 4 people
- 4 cups of coffee (Italian cups, so tiny ones for espresso)
- 50 ml of milk (1.69 oz). If you think it’s too gluttony, you can make it 30 ml (1 oz)
- 200 gr of chocolate (7 oz). Pick dark chocolate, I would suggest 70% up because you are going to add sugar and it would become too sweet.
- 2 teaspoons of sugar
- 50 fresh cream (1.69 oz)
- Cinnamon (optional).
- Make the coffee. Many suggest that the coffee should be made Italian-style, so with a Moka, but if you have a machine for espresso, that would work, too.
- Melt the chocolate. While the coffee is in the making, you can work on the chocolate. You can decide to melt it bain-marie (double boiler) or directly into the saucepan.
- Add the milk and sugar. If you are melting the chocolate directly in the pan, once it’s nice and fluid, you can add the milk and the sugar. Keep stirring over a low fire to melt and incorporate everything smoothly.
- Serve in a glass. When everything is ready, combine the coffee and the chocolate in the same glass and give it a good mix.
- Add the topping. To make things easy, I would suggest just adding a topping of ready whipped cream on your ready bicerin coffee. However, if you can spend some more time in the kitchen and enjoy preparing everything from scratch, you can make your own whipped cream by mixing fresh liquid cream cold from the fridge, a bit of cold full-fat milk, a little sugar syrup, and whipping it until you reach the favorite consistency.
- Sprinkle with cinnamon. This is an optional step so it’s really up to you if you enjoy the cinnamon flavor with coffee and chocolate.