July 13, 2020

What Is An Affogato?

The affogato is a hot and cold delicacy available on many specialty coffee shop menus, as well as in restaurants.

It is a rich, creamy blend of two very different flavours. While generally considered a dessert, some people do believe the affogato is a drink. It originated in Italy, but can now be found around the world.

So, just what is an affogato, and how do you make one? Read on to learn more.

Lee este artículo en español ¿Qué es un Affogato?

The Affogato

The affogato is a dessert made with two main ingredients: vanilla ice cream and espresso. Originally invented in Italy, the word “affogato” literally translates as “drowned” in English. This is fitting, as the affogato is no more than a scoop of ice cream “drowned” in espresso. 

Keiko Sato is an SCA-certified barista and coffee buyer. She is also Head of Training at Santo Grão, a Brazilian coffee roastery and café chain. According to her, information on the affogato’s history is hard to find. 

“It’s difficult to find a specific date of invention for the affogato,” Keiko says. “I imagine it emerged after the invention of the espresso machine, but it only started to spread in the late 1900s.”

While it is mainly viewed as a dessert, some restaurants and cafés in Italy still categorise the affogato as a beverage. This is a matter of continuing debate. Emerson Nascimento is the owner of Coffee Five in Rio de Janeiro and a two-time Brazilian coffee champion at the Good Spirits Championship. He believes that the affogato is definitely a dessert. 

“It’s basically composed of a big scoop of ice cream and a shot of espresso. The largest volume is solid. You even have to use a spoon to eat it.”

Despite arguments over whether the affogato is a dessert or not, there is consensus on how you should eat it. It is generally recommended that you pour the coffee over the ice cream just before serving, and eat it before it melts.

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How Do You Prepare An Affogato?

I asked Emerson how he prepares an affogato at his coffee shop. “We take a beautiful bowl, add a generous scoop of fior di latte ice cream, and pour a delicious espresso over it.” Fior di latte ice cream, known in Italy as gelato al fior di latte, might look like vanilla, but it isn’t. “Fior di latte” literally translates as “flower of milk” in English, and it is ice cream that is typically made using only dairy, sugar, and starch, without any egg yolk.

Emerson explains, however, that finding fior di latte is quite difficult sometimes. “We have many variations in Brazil. If people can’t find fior di latte ice cream, they often use vanilla instead.

“You can also have a ‘decorated’ affogato. Some cafés add cantuccini or biscotti, while others add chocolate syrup. Some variations even include chantilly cream.”

Keiko echoes Emerson’s comments: “The Italian classic is made with vanilla ice cream or fior di latte, served with a well-regulated espresso. Its texture was originally very firm, but nowadays some variations use ice cream with a more creamy flavour.

“As for presentation, this is diverse. Initially served in bowls, today the affogato can be found served in cups for operational convenience.”

Affogato Variations

Some people choose to experiment with the affogato’s two main ingredients. As Emerson mentioned, you can try different types of ice cream; beyond fior di latte and vanilla, some cafés even serve caramel or chocolate ice cream-based affogato.

You can also alter the flavour by changing the espresso. The intensity of the dessert will vary depending on the amount of espresso you add, and how it has been extracted. For example, if you prepare an affogato with a double ristretto, the flavour of coffee will be much more intense than with just a single shot.

There are other types of variations, too. Emerson says: “I’ve seen and tasted affogato with fruit ice creams that are common in Brazil. It is very tasty but it’s not the classic way.”

Keiko says that variations range from simple to sophisticated: “Some may use syrups, oilseeds or biscottis; there are also more sophisticated and even alcoholic versions that are made with liqueurs or wine.”

The traditional alcoholic variation is known as affogato corretto. This is prepared with grappa, an Italian grape pomace brandy. Keiko, however, recommends testing with different liqueurs if you’re after an alcoholic affogato: “Besides that, you can also use Baileys, an Irish liqueur made with whiskey and milk, which is very easy to combine with espresso. You can also use a coffee liqueur, such as Kahlua.” 

Similar Desserts

The dessert is similar to another Italian delicacy, caldo freddo. According to GT Food & Travel, caldo freddo “is an extravaganza of sponge cake soaked in liquor, gelato (Italian ice cream) and whipped cream covered in hot dark chocolate sauce served in a terra cotta bowl.” 

The classic version apparently uses coffee-flavoured gelato, but this can be changed to suit your taste. While the recipe is slightly more complex than the affogato, the principle of mixing something hot with something cold remains the same.

The affogato is unique and simple, mainly thanks to its two basic ingredients. According to Keiko: “If you want to vary the affogato, you can mix the ice cream and espresso in a blender to create a frappé.”

Emerson, on the other hand, compares the affogato to a number of other desserts prepared with coffee: “There are many others… tiramisu is a classic, but in Brazil we also have coffee “brigadeiros” [made with butter, coffee and condensed milk], coffee pudding, and so on.”

How Do You Prepare An Affogato At Home?

It’s very simple to make an affogato at home, and it doesn’t require too much equipment.

Emerson believes that quality is most important: “You need good ice cream and good coffee.

“For the classic, you need espresso, but if you don’t have your own espresso machine, you can use a moka pot, or prepare more concentrated filter coffee.”

Keiko says that it doesn’t matter, as long as the coffee is highly concentrated: “To make an affogato at home, you can use espresso machines, moka, Brikka, capsules, or even instant coffee. It can be any coffee as long as it is concentrated.”

The Future Of Affogato

Despite a number of different varieties, the classic affogato has not fundamentally changed since it first appeared more than 100 years ago.

Emerson believes that it won’t change: “I think it will remain classic. It uses two ingredients that everyone loves, ice cream and coffee; there’s no reason for it to change. Some evolution might come through decoration, new flavours, and other variations.”

Whether or not the affogato changes in the future, it is currently one of the most popular coffee-based desserts in the world. Grab some vanilla ice cream, brew some concentrated coffee, and try it for yourself.

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Photo credits: Gelma Franco of Il Barista Cafés Especiais; Sharon Ang via Pixabay; Lumen Café; Full Beard Coffee; Daniel Busch of Royalty Quality Coffee; Emerson Nascimento of Coffee Five

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