The Magic of the Marocchino

I was never addicted to coffee, until I moved to Italy and met the marocchino, an espresso with foamed milk and cacao in a little glass cup.

I still remember my mother saying, “I didn’t get addicted to coffee until I was 26.” It rang like a “You’ll shoot your eye out” threat in my head for years.

But luckily, American coffee never tempted me, though I grew an appreciation for coffee ice cream. And for some strange reason, I resisted the $4 lattes and pseudo-milkshake coffee drinks from Starbucks and never got into that, either. I had the occasional caramel Frappuccino, but now when I go home it doesn’t tempt me at all.

I was here a full three years, having the occasional coffee or cappuccino with students/friends or Saturday mornings with S. Half the times I was there more for the cornetto/brioche than the coffee. At the end in Rome, I discovered a bar that makes a mean cappuccino with BAILEYs clotted cream and that was starting to get addictive. But yet I kept to only one or two a week. Nothing serious, and I didn’t miss it the days I didn’t have it.

Until now.

Until I started regularly getting what I call, “Heaven in a Cup,” the Marocchino.

The perfect Marocco

I’m not sure of the origins of this name, though I imagine in a country where they still sell a “Negrito” candy (this wrapper here is similar), the possibilities are numerous. Cappuccino comes from the Capuchin monks and their tell-tale hoods, so marocchino, a word that means “little Moroccan,” could have very interesting origins, I imagine.

It’s not called a marocchino in all of Italy, though. When we went to Puglia late this summer, I ordered one in a bar in Foggia (near Manfredonia). They looked at me strangely, and said, “Un espressino?” (A little espresso?) And I said, uh, sure, that, as it was obvious I wasn’t getting a marocchino. Unfortunately, Moroccans have a very bad reputation in most of Italy. Maybe ordering that in this area was a no-no.

To me, the marocchino is the perfect blend of coffee and milk. Add a touch of cacao (cocoa for us English speakers) on top and it’s perfect. Be careful when drinking it that you don’t leave any cocoa moustache. Some places even will add a small dollop of chocolate at the bottom (bar in Torino) or chocolate sprinkles (bar near work), but just “plain” cacao is great, too.

Since we moved here in July, we are still looking for our “perfect” morning bar. In Rome there was a great bar right across from my building’s doorway, so that was a no-brainer, and in Pavia the bars near the station sufficed. But now that we’re in Milan, and we know that we have the time to look around for a good place, we’re trying everywhere.

My colleague told me that he and his friends were recently trying to catalogue every bar in their area and rate them on the following things: quality, service, and flexibility. So far, we haven’t found one that fits all these things. A place near our house puts a little heart of cocoa on top of my marocchino (service+), but the coffee is a little bitter (quality-).

This particular marocchino is very good and comes from the bar on the corner near my office (on a side note, not one of the workers is Italian). Having a good marocchino near work is a blessing and a curse. It started innocently enough. All through September, I met with my colleagues in the morning to have a coffee together, chat and get ready for the day.

Now, since work has picked up considerably, many mornings we can’t all go together, but a mysterious magnetic tractor beam (yes, very similar to the Death Star) sucks me in the doorway as I walk by the bar anyway. I enter cautiously, aware of my solitude.

“MAROCCHINO??” the bar worker’s voice carried over the twenty other people in the bar. He knows what I need. “O VUOI ASPETTARE?” No, I don’t want to wait for the others to arrive for breakfast. JUST GIVE IT TO ME! I take my place at the bar, avoiding eye contact with others but focused on the coffee machine, like a junkie trying to get his fix.

It takes sooooooooo long, yet I know he’s making mine first since I’m now…a regular. I watch his hands. Coffee, a bit of cacao, froth and then a little more cacao on top. He sets it in front of me and my pores breathe a sigh of relief.

This is not good.

But oh, so good.

This is a strange little game I play with my marocchino. Every day I see if the sugar or the froth will win.

Who's winning?

The sugar won, after a few seconds.

The sugar won

Have you tried the marocchino? Do you love it like I do?


  1. says

    Oh my gosh! I want a marocchino RIGHT NOW! You made it sound so yummy! But I suppose that wouldn’t do now since it is early evening… I am sure I would get a strange look if I asked. But tomorrow morning I am gonna get me one! Great blog by the way, I hope you don’t mind me stopping by.

  2. says

    WOW! That looks divine. I have heard everything from lungho decaffinato machiato freddo to hag (that one stumped me for a while) to caffe con sambuca(yum). But I’ve never heard of a Marocchino. It looks so gorgeous I have to try it.

  3. Laurie says

    Next time you come to Torino you must try “bicerin”. You will like it, it think. Another coffee chocolate combo event. By the way, Birthday girl, would you consider a larger typeface for those of us who have LONG ago passed the 29th….

  4. Ms. Adventures in Italy says

    Welcome Ambra! Thanks for stopping by. Avery, it’s my favorite. I don’t remember having one in Rome but as I mentioned, I wasn’t much of a coffee person. The key is the clear, small glass it’s served in!

    Laurie…just for you, as a compromise I’ve installed a little script on the sidebar, at the very bottom. You can click “BIGGER” or “SMALLER” and change the text size automatically!! :)

    Beth, if you come visit, I’ll save you a few pieces, ahha.

  5. Melanie says

    Funny…I’ve become addicted to Starbucks over the past few months. It has been an on and off “treat” for a few years, but over the past few months it’s become an almost every day “treat”. Ugh, I cringe when I think of all the money I spend on coffee.

    My newest is to double the espresso, so usually an iced double tall sugar free vanilla non-fat latte. I can’t imagine trying to order that in Italy. They’d probably throw me out! Haha.

  6. Michelle says

    Happy (belated) Birthday Sara! I’ve never commented before, but I did see on the ExpatsinItaly site that your bday just passed (my 30th was the 18th, which is why I was poking around). Have to warn you, you’ll probably still feel 25/26 at this time next year. Funny how we hover ;)

    Anyway, I wanted to write because my Calabrian OH tells me that a frothy drink like cappuccino is perfectly made when the sugar floats on the top for a five seconds or so then drops in–just like your pictures. So it looks like your Marocchino is even more perfect than you thought (hopefully no one reads THAT out of context)! Looks delicious!

  7. says

    Beautiful photo. At the bar, they don’t give you those weird “why is that girl taking a picture of coffee?” looks, do they? I sometimes get that around Rome but then again I guess I can also blend in with the tourists.

  8. Lisa says

    Hi – I had my first cup of Marocchino at a bar in Perugia, when i was taking my itailan summer course. As you said, it really tastes like heaven, also watching the barman making it is a treat too, like he would first water the cup, sprinkle chocolate powder, the pour in espresso, milk foam and cream and then chocolate powder again…i really miss it as i couldnt find the same in hong kong!

  9. Andrea says

    “Marocchino” means “Moroccan”, not necessarily a little one. -ino in this istance means only “inhabitants of” in words of Spanish origin, like “Tunisino” = “Tunisian”, “Algerino” = “Algerian”, “Filippino” = “Filipino”.

  10. ZeroCool says

    `Moroccans have a very bad reputation in most of Italy`

    Let me add this: maybe all foreign people or especially the so called `extra communitari` in italy got a poorly bad reputation due to the medias controlling everything !

  11. says

    Mmm – I wonder if I can make the marocchino at home! I will try it.

    Also, I was in Pavia last year and fell in love with that little university town. I’m sad you had to leave it…

  12. says

    Awesome drink! I am actually writing a book of italian coffee traditions and drinks, as well as recipes, and proverbs of the italian world of coffee.

    Beautiful pictures by the way! Gnum Gnum!

  13. says

    Ah, the marocchino!
    I hated coffee most of my life until I gave in to an iced mocha at Stanford in 1994, and then broke down and did cappucchinos (I’ve been going to Rome for 30 years now), but somehow something so simple and so good almost everywhere in Italy is difficult to find in the US.

    But it was only about 2 years ago that I discovered the morocchino (after having delighted in the cafe shakerato for a few years before that), and I am addicted to it. Each coffee bar seems to make it a bit different in Rome where I get to try them out summers, but I cannot seem to get it right in my own kitchen.

    In chicago we discovered an Illy Shop and they have unbelievable specialty coffee drinks, those with chocolate are my weeakness, but then found an Illy Shop in the Stazione Termini at Rome, so close! [When I am in the center of Rome.]

    Thanks for sharing your story about your coffee weakness.

    dr bob in philly

  14. Jana says

    Hello, I have just returned from a traditional Italian holiday. I visit Italy from 11 years each year (now you are 24), simply love her. I tried předpár Marocchino years ago and since then I do not want anything else:). I recommend all over Italy, including its cuisine and beverages, for me it is a country with a big C:)

  15. Laura says

    OOOh, can I say something about it? I’m from Alessandria, the city where Marocchino has been invented, the names it’s because of the colour, similar to the one used for the hats (just like Davide said). remember that Alessandria is the city of Borsalino!
    I laughted for your adventure in Puglia, my family used to go every year in Puglia for vacation, marocchino (or simply “marocco” as we say) has become popular just in the last ten years, but before, no one out of Alessandria knew it… Well I remember my mother terrorizing all the bartenders of puglia asking for a marocchino… Imagine, just like entering in a bar in london asking for a Canadian!
    probably espressino has been developped after this crazy Alessandrina asking for someting that sounded like a whole county… ahaha!! by the way,
    This morning we had a discussion with a fellow from Turin that said that they like it with chocolate cream in it, because the have it like a variation of the Bicerin…. No,no. marocchino it’s like Alessandria, it has no frills, just coffe milk and if you like it, just a touch of cocoa powder.

  16. Pastafarian High Priest says

    Oh, no, Marocchino doesn’t mean “little moroccan”.
    “Marocchino” means “moroccan” period, just like a “tunisino” is a guy from Tunisia regardless of the height :)

  17. Khan says

    I had my first Marocchino at a Hotel Bar right outside Sigonella. Just like you and most others, I fell in love with it and had to have had at least seven to 10 of them every day until it gave me the runs! I miss having them though, I wish I could get a good recipe so I could try it myself. That and Thai Iced Tea.

  18. Matt says

    If you are still in Milan and looking for a good Marocchino (though by now I’m sure you have found one), might I suggest Bianco Latte near Piazza Republica on Via Turati. They also have the best gelato I have had to date here in Milan.

  19. Jonathon Storjohann says

    Hi! Glad to comment on that wonderful Maroccino that you showed. Wished it looked like mine. (laughing) I tried making mine and it never looked as good as yours but I loved it anyway. For a long time, used to drink cheap machine chocolate cappucinos and never tasted as good as a homemade Maroccino. But have a question, what kind of cocao do you use? I’m using hersheys bakers cocao for my maroccinos. Didn’t know if it would make a difference or not. Or should I use a different brand? Your web site is awesome!

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