December 8, 2020

What Is The Caffè Marocchino?

Layering coffee drinks takes more time and precision than making a normal espresso-based beverage. Despite this, their unique presentation – as the drinks are often served in a glass, making the layers visible – often makes them popular among customers.

However, while most layered drinks are carefully-prepared versions of preexisting beverages, some can only be made by layering the constituent ingredients. The caffé marocchino is one such example.

The marocchino is an Italian beverage made by layering cocoa powder, espresso, and milk foam in a small glass. Its flavour is reminiscent of other drinks that use similar ingredients, such as the mocha. 

Read on to learn more about the origins of the marocchino, how it’s made, and where its name comes from.

Enjoyed this? Then read What Is A Mocha?

marocchino

Where Does The Caffè Marocchino Come From?

While the caffè marocchino was invented in the mid-20th century, Italians have enjoyed coffee drinks made with the same ingredients for centuries. 

In the 18th century, the bavareisa first emerged: a beverage made with thick, concentrated coffee, chocolate, and milk cream, traditionally served in a large round glass. In Turin in the 19th century, a similar beverage called bicerin started to appear, instead made with espresso, milk, and drinking chocolate.

The caffè marocchino, however, was invented some time later, after the Second World War. Modeled on bicerin, the origin of the marocchino can be traced back to the Bar Carpano in Alessandria, Piedmont, some 90 kilometres southeast of Turin, the region’s capital.

Bar Carpano was located close to a factory operated by Italian designer headwear brand Borsalino. Still a well-known brand today, at the time, Borsalino’s custom-made fedoras were some of the most sought-after hats in the world.

marocchino

They were popularised by Hollywood stars of the 1940s and 1950s such as Humphrey Bogart, who immortalised Borsalino fedoras when he wore one in the 1942 film Casablanca.

The word “marocchino” is Italian for “Moroccan”, which references where Borsalino sourced its leather. Each hat had a brown leather strip inside it called a marocchino strip.

As Borsalino workers and buyers frequented the Bar Carpano, baristas there created the marocchino and named it for the leather strip in the hat, the colour of which closely resembled the layer of cocoa powder in the drink.

Francesco Masciullo was 2017’s Italian Barista Champion and a runner-up in 2019. He’s also the manager and head barista at Ditta Artigianale, a specialty café chain based in Florence.

He tells me that the caffè marocchino can be found in coffee shops all around Italy. However, he says that depending on the region, it might have a different name and that it’s vital to find out what that name is before ordering one.

“In the south of Italy, for example, it’s [often] called an espressino,” he explains. “However, if you order an espressino in the north, baristas won’t know what you’re asking for.”

How Do You Make It?

Presentation and careful preparation are what set the marocchino apart from other beverages made with chocolate and coffee. 

Size is important, as the recipe requires a 60ml shot glass, similar to what’s used to create an espresso in vetro, or espresso in a glass, according to Francesco. 

He tells me that the traditional caffè marocchino starts with a single espresso shot as a base. This should then be topped with a layer of cocoa powder, followed by milk froth or cream, and then another dusting of cocoa powder.

The marocchino will generally be consumed without added sugar, but this may depend on the type and flavour of the cocoa powder that is used. 

Francesco says that the amount of cocoa powder and consistency of the milk or cream is up to the barista, provided the result is proportionally balanced. Some recipes also call for the use of a shorter ristretto shot for a more intense coffee flavour.

Furthermore, the final layer of cocoa powder may also be swapped out for hazelnut cream, melted chocolate, chocolate cream, or even Nutella. It can also be spread around the edge of the glass instead of being layered on top.

While their ingredients may be similar, it’s important to note that the marocchino and the mocha are fundamentally different beverages. The mocha was invented and popularised some time after the marocchino, and is much larger in size.

The mocha generally contains two espresso shots, and uses chocolate syrup, drinking chocolate or chocolate shavings (instead of cocoa powder or a hazelnut/chocolate cream). It also typically uses steamed milk instead of milk foam or cream.

Several things set the marocchino aside from other beverages made by combining coffee and chocolate. Its small volume and the use of two layers of chocolate powder give it a thick and unique flavour that combines with the intensity of espresso to make it unlike mochas or other similar beverages.

The marocchino’s rich, intense, and sweet flavour is likely to be popular among those who like thick, creamy, and chocolatey flavours. For these consumers, the marocchino could be a great new way to stick to old tastes while experimenting with different coffees for espresso. Next time you’re in a coffee shop, why not see if they can offer one?

Enjoyed this? Then read Fine Chocolate Meets Specialty Coffee: A New Kind of “Hot Cocoa”

Photo credits: Ignacio Palomo Duarte, Benjamin Thompson, Eric Golub, Guilhem Vellut, Oyvind Solstad, Francesco Masciullo

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