Legend indicates the lemon peel was originally served with espresso after drinking espresso to clean one’s teeth. Another version claims that after WWII the coffee available in Europe was of such poor quality that the lemon peel was used to alter the coffee flavor. This is not an Italian custom today, but Espresso is often served in restaurants in North America. The truth is that the origin of the lemon peel in the coffee is strictly an American tradition. During the period of the emigration of many Italians to the United States, which would occur only by ship, from the European continent, the mainly poor immigrants would travel packed in a third class compartment of the ship that would eventually transport them to the new land, in search of a better economic opportunity after a thorn and battle ridden country soon after the second world war. The brought with them. along with their possession, the culinary tradition of Italy. Bread, cheeses, cold cuts, canned vegetables and of course coffee. Unfortunately the luxury of disposable cups was not available during those times, therefore they would bring along in their belonging, one or two coffee cups that would be forced to share with their fellows countryman. Brewing their favorite espresso would be one way to share the italian tradition. As the coffee was being served, it would be passed to other fellow passengers, therefore the need and necessity to sanitize the cup would force them to use the peel of a lemon to do so. As many children viewed their parents and grandparents use this method of serving coffee they soon adapted it in their coffee tradition as they grew up and passed it on to their children and grandchildren. No where in Italy will you ever be served an espresso with a lemon peel on a side. Just an American tradition that continues to find believers of a special enhancement of the aroma or special curative myth. Just a myth. When in Rome, do as the romans do… do not ask for lemon peel! You may get a nasty look from a not so friendly barista. Some traditions are not meant to be altered.
Excerpt from ReKico June 2009 Newsletter