A Few Of My Favourite Cafes In Turin
There are nearly as many cafes in Turin as there are stars in the sky. I haven’t found one yet that makes bad coffee but there are a few that I try to frequent whenever I visit Turin, that make outstanding coffee. The only problem with wanting to sample the coffee in all these cafes in the space of a weekend is that then I don’t sleep well for some time after, thanks to the caffeine high. It’s worth it though to sip foamy cappuccinos, chocolate-infused marocchinos, and strong espressos in these ornate cafes, some that were built just as European settlers were arriving in the distant and unknown country of New Zealand to make a new life for themselves. My mind is starting to boggle! Incidentally, what does a boggling mind look like? Does it jiggle around in a person’s skull like a rubber ball, or does it just lie there and wheeze? Anyway, here are some of my favourite coffee haunts in Turin in no particular order of preference. Just an important note about coffee drinking in Italy before we start on our coffee junket: remember in all cafes in Italy, if you stand at the bar and drink your coffee, it costs a low price that is fixed by the government. If you sit at a table, the cafe owners can charge whatever they want.
1. Caffè Mulassano
Caffé Mulassano was founded in 1850. It moved to its present location in the early 1900’s, which is still a really long time ago! The inside is tiny,with only about six small tables squeezed around the walls. If you are very lucky, you can nab a table in one of the two windows and watch the world go by as you sip your coffee. The waiters are white-coated and the inside is all dark wood and chandeliers.
2. Caffè Palazzo Reale
I love this cafe in the centre of Turin, just because it’s not easy to find. I always feel as though I’m in on some secret when I go to drink coffee there. It is hidden behind an arcade on the left side of the main entrance to the Palazzo Reale (The Royal Palace). There is one foldout sign on the pavement pointing the way to it, and unless they’ve put a sign up recently, no indication that there is even a cafe behind the swing-doors you find in the dark corner under the arcade. However, if you push through the doors, you come across a wonderful sight.
The cafe has been set up in the restored library of the palace. Once upon a time, the aristocracy came here to read, or at last just stuck all their books here so that they looked as though they read. The ceilings are very high, and on the shelves that once held books, there is now a display of delicate antique dinnerware. The bar is through an archway at the end of the room, and the coffee is extremely well-made.
3. Caffè San Carlo
Caffè San Carlo lies at the end of the enormous Pizza San Carlo. It was opened back in 1822, and has been serving fabulous coffee and pastries since then. I love sitting in the outside area and people watching. In the weekends there are often quite a few buskers who perform in the piazza, so you can sip your cappuccino and often get some good entertainment at the same time. When you go, take a look inside the doors of the cafe. The high ceilings have an obligatory chandelier or two, and the walls are made with lots of marble and gilt-framed mirrors.
4. Caffè Torino
The inside space of Caffè Torino is very elegant. It feels as though you are stepping back in time a hundred years or so ago and will see women in long dresses with bustles sitting at the tables, sipping their coffee in front of the sweeping staircase. The waiters bring you your pastries on silver-tiered trays. Of course, you pay for this luxurious treatment, as the coffee cost about three times the price as it does if you stand at the long burnished-wood bar you see on the left in the photo below, but if you can, you should do it once (at least)!
As a last bit of advice on visiting Turin: if you ever want to come back, the superstition that guarantees your return to this beautiful coffee-infused city is that you must step on the private parts of this bull (pictured below), set in the pavement just outside Caffe Torino. I have done it a number of times (maybe out of maliciousness for a bull that chased me on the farm in New Zealand years ago), and I do keep going back to Turin! Though….the superstition should say, “If you marry someone from Turin, you’re guaranteed to return”. Probably works better than stepping on some animal’s nether regions.
You can read more about these cafes and more in an article I wrote for Italian Talks a few months ago.
By Lisa Watson