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You can visit Turin (Torino) without tasting a Bicerin, but then you’d be going against the advice of noted gastronome Alexandre Dumas.
The writer who was best known for his novels The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo was also publisher of L’Indipendente, a Neapolitan newspaper that supported Italian Unification, as well as the compiler of Le Grand Dictionnaire De Cuisine, an exhaustive compendium of recipes, ingredient definitions, and food anecdotes published posthumously in 1873.
Dumas, who visited Torino during the Risorgimento (early 1860s), said:
“I will never forget Bicerin, an excellent drink consisting of coffee, milk and chocolate that is served in all the coffee shops.”-Alexandre Dumas
What Dumas was drinking was the “Un pù ‘d Tut” version of the hot beverage that is named after the small glass (bicerin, Piemontese for “bicchierino”) in which it is served. Specialty coffee drinkers may recognize this combination of chocolate and coffee as a mocha but the bicerin is much more than that. “Un pù ‘d Tut” means “a little bit of everything,” meaning not just a cappuccino (“pur e fiur”) and not just coffee and chocolate (“pur e barba”) but all three ingredients together.
The concept of the bicerin began in Piemontese households as a “Bavareisa,” a combination of coffee, chocolate, milk, and sugar syrup. The bicerin is said to differ from the Bavareisa in that it is carefully layered. First, there’s coffee (espresso), then hot chocolate (the thick artisanal variety), then cream. It is also always served in a glass (bicerin) with a spoon so that the drinker can stir the flavors together.
To get a taste of the truest iteration of a Bicerin, you’ll want to visit Al Bicerin, a café and confectionery shop on the Piazza della Consolata. Since its opening in 1763, Al Bicerin has served famous guests such as Dumas, Camillo Benso Conte di Cavour, Giacomo Puccini, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Most Torinese agree that it was here where a barista served a “Bavareisa” in a bicerin.
Frequently foggy and damp Torino lends itself well to such a hot, rich drink. You will have no problem finding a bicerin “in all the coffee shops” of Torino, including the city’s historic cafés. Order a bicerin (bee-cher-een) on its own or pair it with a brioche or Savoiardi (sponge biscuits). But be prepared: after you’ve had a bicerin, a simple mocha will never do.
This post was written for the Italy Blogging Roundtable on the topic of “sweet.” Read the rest of my colleagues’ sweet stories about Italy:
- Jessica – Two Sweet Italian Stories
- Rebecca – Holiday Munchies: Addormentasuocere
- Alexandra – Hot Chocolate in Florence
- Kate – The Sweet, the Savoury, and the Sneaky Hidden Trifle
- Michelle – Christmas in Calabria: Pignolata and Cumpettu
Photos: Melanie Renzulli/Italofile, Wikipedia