Exploring Trieste’s historic cafes

Adam Jones | 12/12/2018
Historic places in Trieste. Cafe's in Trieste.
Canal Grande, Trieste, Italy

Trieste is one of the best locations in Italy for coffee lovers. The history of Trieste is deeply tied to global coffee production and has served as a gateway for coffee into Italy since the 18th Century. This bustling seaport has been the main coffee harbour in the Mediterranean for centuries. 

Because Trieste was a distribution hub for the world’s most in-demand bean, it also became a global center of coffee roasting. Illy, one of coffee’s most famous brands, originated in Trieste. 

With a long-standing tradition of having the best beans and the skills to roast them to perfection, it’s no surprise that Trieste has had a thriving cafe culture going back hundreds of years. The first coffee shop was opened on the Via S. Nicolo in 1768. Walking through the streets today you’ll find many stellar small roasting businesses, often connecting to some of the city’s historic cafes. Long an artistic hub, chatting away in coffee shops has been one of the things to do in Trieste for centuries, with writers like James Joyce, Stendhal, Franz Kafka, and Italo Svevo known to have lounged and had their favorites.

Which is the locals’ favorite Trieste cafe? It depends on taste, but there are a wide variety to choose from. Let’s take a look at some of the most notable examples.

Caffè San Marco

A favorite hotbed for Italian politics during World War I, and afterwards for intellectuals, Caffè San Marco opened in 1914. Decimated by the war, it was immediately rebuilt in the 1920s and hasn’t changed much since. With spacious ceilings yet a cozy vide, the interior design of the coffee shop contains many hidden symbols and metaphors that recall the cafe’s political origins.

Since 2013 the Bookshop San Marco has also become a part of the space, featuring regular readings, concerts, and cultural events. Come for the books, coffee, and conversation. Stay for a bite of their famous chocolate and pear cake.

Caffè degli Specchi

Located in the main square of Piazza Unità d’Italia, this cafe has long been in the center of Trieste’s cultural life and history. Founded in 1839, it was originally decorated with a series of engraved mirrors that would allow the light of candles and oil lamps to be reflected back, creating ambient light well into the evening. Before the days of electricity, many patrons would leave cafes early as they were extremely dark. This cafe, in particular, was a favorite of James Joyce.

Caffè degli Specchi remains well-kept and beautiful today, with much of its original charm of dense wood, great lighting, and of course spectacular coffee.

Caffè Tommaseo

If your list of things to see in Trieste contains the oldest coffee shop in the city, you’ll want to stop by Caffè Tommaseo, which opened in 1830. The cafe is elegant in the extreme, featuring neoclassical decor that was fully restored in 1997.

One of the first places to serve gelato in Trieste Italy, Caffè Tommaseo was also a meeting spot for revolutionaries during the Austro-Hungarian Empire. You can sit at the tables, sipping your cafe and just imagine the revolutionaries conspiring into the long hours of the night. Though you may not be plotting revolution, you might still enjoy brunch or dinner if you drop by with your travelling companions.

We hope you enjoy your time in Trieste with a relaxing stop at one of these famous cafes.