An old Moka machine is displayed in a cafe in downtown Rome.

Italians aren’t the biggest coffee drinkers in Europe – that title goes to the Finns – but their nation’s link with cafe culture is etched on every menu board, giving the world the espresso, the mocha and the latte. Now that link is feeling the strain of recession.

As Europe’s debt crisis drags on, more cash-strapped Italians are giving the coffee bar a miss and taking their morning caffeine hit in the kitchen.

“Italians are drinking more coffee at home than at the bar,” said Raffaele Brogna, the founder of consumer blog community

The trend hasn’t gone unnoticed at the Bar Principe in central Milan, and it is hitting the owner, Fausto D’Andrea, in the pocket.

Though coffee prices have risen sharply – reaching a 34-year high on world coffee markets last summer – D’Andrea has had to freeze prices to keep his clientele.

“There has been a little slowdown in consumption, but I haven’t increased prices,” he said, as he served coffees and sandwiches to customers with corporate lunch vouchers.

D’Andrea said he charges espressos for 80c a cup, against average prices of 90c charged by rivals in the city.

Still too much for those opting for a kitchen cup, some of whom are fuelling the growth of the $8 billion single-cup coffee market, dominated by players such as Nestlé’s Nespresso and Green Mountain Coffee Roasters, in which Italian coffee-producer Lavazza also has a stake.

But one-cup coffee makers and the coffee-filled cups, discs or capsules they use, still account for only 8 percent of total worldwide coffee sales.

In Italy, at least, that is because the consumer has gone back to the stove-top moka pot that their grandparents would have used.

Blogger Brogna said most of the 52 000 followers polled on his Facebook and Twitter pages said they had returned to the moka pot to save money.

“After years using various coffee machines, we have gone back to our beloved moka ... cheap and with a unique taste!” Francesca Larcinese wrote on the blog.

Since Alfonso Bialetti created his first moka in 1933, the two-chamber steel pot has resisted competition from the fancy single-serve brewers. Almost 80 percent of Italians drink coffee at home, and nearly 60 percent own a moka, manufacturer Bialetti said, adding the recession was encouraging the use of ground coffee. – Reuters