Since the early 17th century, Turin has been synonymous with chocolate and this is reflected in its historic coffee houses where chocolate delicacies and special coffee blends are served in charming period settings. At such cafes you are transported back in time through the largely unchanged Regency, Baroque or Art Nouveau interiors; enjoy the romance of a bygone era when European cafe culture was at its peak. Turin’s longest standing cafes all have great tales of politicians, artists and anarchists exchanging ideas over coffee. If you prefer to remain in the 21st century, the city also has plenty of contemporary coffee shops, from Italy’s first cat cafe to a tea emporium. Here is our historic and contemporary coffeehouse shortlist.
Caffè Al Bicerin is as sweet as the desserts it serves. This tiny coffee bar first opened in 1763 but was redesigned in 1856 by architect Carlo Promis, a practitioner of Eclectism, and very little has changed since then: wooden boiseries cover the walls and the small tables are always lit by white candles in antique silver holders. It is said that Camillo Benso of Cavour, the prime minister responsible for Italy’s unification, came here to drink Turin’s famous Bicerin, which the cafe still makes to the same recipe (read a more detailed history here). In addition to the classic Bicerin, the menu also includes other indulgent drinks and desserts such the Zabaioni, a combination of Muscat, lemon and Passito di Caluso topped with cream and biscuits; chocolate and hazelnut cake; and gelato.
Inaugurated in 1907, Mulassano Cafè is one of Turin’s finest historic cafes. It is located under one of the city’s famous porticoes in the grand Piazza Castello and exemplifies Art Nouveau design. Just a handful of highly coveted tables are set within a small room of vast mirrors, set in ornately carved wood, heavy brass work and rich marble; from the ceiling to the silver cake stands, everything is exquisite and elegant, transporting you back to the turn of the 20th century. Mulassano is famous for serving little ‘tramezzino’ sandwiches, which it claims to have invented, as well as sweet pastries, chocolates and coffee. Open from 7.30 am to 12.00 am, you can come for coffee, aperitivo or a nightcap.
Caffè Fiorio was established in 1780 and its grand marble counter, red velvet seats and rich wallpaper speaks to its former glory as a favourite haunt of Turin’s politicians, aristocrats and literary figures (it’s worth reading the cafe website’s very detailed historical summary). In the evening, guests move on from sweet delicacies (specialiaties include gelato and traditional hot chocolate) to the cafe’s grand aperitivo hour, and then it stays open for drinks until 1 am. It can feel rather touristy.
This cafe is the grand dame of Turin’s historic coffeehouses. The 19th-century building is spectacularly grand with lofty ceilings ornate, gilded stucco, detailed frescoes and iconic columns. It was known as a major intellectual and political hub of supporters of the Risorgimento. In the 20th century, it was also a ritualistic meeting point for the ‘Six of Turin’ art movement. Find it under the arcades of Piazza San Carlo. It offers coffee and sweet treats all day, as well as aperitivo hour.
Antique Art Nouveau furniture and design at Caffé Torino in Turin | Courtesy Caffé Torino
Established in 1903, Caffè Torino encapsulates Italian Art Nouveau design (or, as they call it, Stile Liberty). There is a showstopping curved staircase with swirling iron ballistrades, an elaborate metal frame window travelling from floor to ceiling and curvaceous chairs, mirrors, sconces and statues with typical floral motifs. Historically, it has counted significant Turinese figures, such as writer Cesare Pavese, among its regulars, and also attracted notable out-of-towners such as Eva Gardner and Brigitte Bardot. Bonbons, gianduiotti and masterful pastries are presented on silver trays and during Easter, the confectionary display is particularly spectacular. It follows the typical format of coffee and treats all day followed by aperitivo hour and drinks throughout the evening. Prices reflect its central square location.
‘Orso’ is Italian for ‘bear’, an animal that, the owners say, shares the characteristics of coffee: ‘strong, hot and good’. This slightly quirky mindset is reflected in their cafe, which breaks the traditional coffee shop model. At Orso Laboratorio, you begin by selecting the coffee bean of your choice. It stocks only single-origin varieties from small, passionate growers within the global fair trade community. For example, you could choose to drink a roast from Chapas, Mexico; Kilimanjaro, Tanzania; or the Islands of Indonesia and trust that it has been cultivated and roasted to ethical but also artisanal standards. Next, you select one of the preparation methods, from traditional Napoletana to the more recent aeropress. A large map of the world helps customers identify exactly where their cup of coffee has come from and the friendly, informed baristas are on hand to guide you through your choice. The space is at once industrial and like your grandmother’s house – the walls are covered in heavy wallpaper and every type of coffee is served in a specially assigned mug or cup. At this cafe, you get much more than a hot drink – you leave feeling like you’ve learned something, and it may even change the way you consume coffee at home.
Bar, Bistro, Restaurant, Cat and Dog Cafe, Vegan, Vegetarian, $$$
Italy’s very first cat cafe and bar. The cafe’s cats are named Sissi, Gin, Silvestrino, Valentino, Tweety, Titti and Tango; they have their own bed/climbing area, but if you’re lucky they will join you at the table for a cuddle. In addition to a typical drink and coffee menu, Miagola also specialises in vegan and vegetarian food, serving from breakfast through aperitivo hour. To promote animal welfare, it often hosts readings and events for educating children about animals and wildlife. In addition, on the first Saturday of every month, the cafe invites shelter animals to come in the hopes of increasing adoptions. This novel venue is understandably popular, so it is recommended that you book ahead on Saturdays and Sundays.
Finding somewhere that serves good tea can be quite difficult in the land of coffee, but, as implied in the name of this cafe, that’s not the case at Teapot. The shelves are packed with jars of loose leaf tea varieties, and cakes and pastries nestle under glass bell jars. The Teapot serves tea and cake all day but also offers breakfast and lunch, with the addition of brunch on weekends. The vegan-friendly menu changes regularly and features things like pancakes and burritos in addition to more typical Italian dishes such as veal stew. It is all very reasonably priced. Inside, it’s kitsch, quirky and inviting, and out front there is a decking area. Teapot is located closet to Parco Valentino, so ideal for a pit-stop after a walk in the park or along the Po River.