Cafe culture is integral to Italian life, and Caffè Spinnato in Palermo has just been voted the best.
The Italians take their coffee seriously, and cafes are the centre of social life - establishments where you can eat and drink, socialise and do business. They are considered so important they are rated like restaurants, and this year the best is the 145-year-old Caffè Spinnato in Palermo, the capital of Sicily.
On a warm day in late autumn, customers are sitting under shady blue umbrellas sipping aperitivi or eating rich Sicilian pastries while a pianist plays in the background. "Coffee is at the heart of our business," says Mario Spinnato, the fifth generation of his family to run the cafe. "It is our calling card because it reflects the quality of everything we offer."
Sicilians like their coffee strong. Caffè Spinnato's is a blend of 70% arabica and 30% robusta - the average blend in Italy is 49% and 51% respectively - and it is served 7am-2am every day, 365 days of the year. Cappuccinos, espressos, macchiatos and correttos are brought out by waiters in smart uniforms.
The cafe also serves hot and cold snacks, 40 flavours of ice-cream and traditional pastries made with almonds from Avola and pistachios from Bronte. In summer, granitas made with shaved ice and espresso are consumed by the bucketload. The cocktails are spectacular, too - the barmen are all old hands who can whip up delicious drinks made with Sicilian liqueurs. Thirty types of bread, rich chocolate cakes and two types of cassata - the famous Sicilian dessert - are on sale in the shop next door.
On Saturdays, there is the added bonus of watching the teenage passeggiata, which starts at 4.30pm. Hundreds of beautiful Sicilian girls and boys in their best clothes stroll past the cafe, taking part in the social highlight of their week, and providing hours of entertainment for customers.
Caffè Spinnato in Via Principe del Belmonte, Palermo, was judged top cafe in Italy for 2005 out of 1,390 establishments assessed by the Gambero Rosso food publishing group.