I’ve got an undue excitement for Italian things, which is why I spend so much time at the Italian grocery store (both Stateside and in Italy), where I first spotted Pocket Coffee.
When I picked up the slim box with its charmingly outdated typeface, I noticed that it was made by Ferrero, but could otherwise glean no information before I made an impulse purchase. Inside the box I found five individually wrapped chocolates, all printed with the text “LIQUID INSIDE.” As I popped the whole thing in my mouth, I expected it to be filled with the sticky, gushing syrup found in a cheap box of drugstore chocolates, but was astounded to discover the opposite. As the packaging warned me, it was actually liquid inside — liquid espresso, about the volume of one-third of a shot. Upon scrupulous examination, I can confirm that the actual anatomy of a Pocket Coffee is this: a dark-chocolate shell, with an interior coated in sugar, filled with slightly sweetened espresso. Light, crunchy, rich, and not too sweet. It’s the perfect portable caffeine and sugar kick — just right for a late-afternoon boost, or a replacement for a worse habit.
For me, a person with a penchant for drinking too much coffee, it both satisfies that 3 p.m. craving for another cup and is a delightful way to spice up my afternoon routine with a dual-purpose treat. I’ve been buying them in cases of 32 boxes of five so I always have them on hand to share with friends, include in care packages, or put out in a cute bowl when entertaining.
In an effort to understand the reputation and context of Pocket Coffee in its home culture, I reached out to my favorite Italian friend crush, Marianna Fierro, who is a renowned food illustrator and fellow Pocket Coffee connoisseur. After confirming that Pocket Coffee is her favorite Italian candy, Marianna explained to me that in Italy, Pocket Coffee is as common as any Hershey’s product here. Since Pocket Coffee’s introduction in 1968, it has been advertised on TV in Italy regularly in scenarios where Pocket Coffee saves the day of a tired worker, a distracted student, or a sleepy traveler. It’s beloved as a checkout-counter treat at restaurants, cafés, and grocery stores, and most remarkably, it’s seasonal. Due to the precarious nature of the liquid filling, Pocket Coffee is typically only available from November to April when it’s not likely to melt. During these months, Pocket Coffee can be found everywhere in Italy, which makes it all the more surprising that it’s such a rarity, even in NYC.
Marianna shared something that I had hoped would be the truth — that what makes Pocket Coffee so special is not just its intended purpose, described by the slogan “the energy of chocolate and the charge of coffee,” but the strong nostalgia factor. For many Italian children, she says, it’s the first taste of coffee they experience. We joked that perhaps it hasn’t made its mark Stateside yet because Americans can’t be trusted to take the “LIQUID INSIDE” warning seriously, but agreed that Pocket Coffee is a product that deserves a place on the shelf in all Italian groceries alongside its friends Baci Perugina, Raffaello, and Mon Cheri. As she likened the flavor profile to that of a good espresso martini, I, a nondrinker, dreamt of a world where Pocket Coffee is as common as the popular cocktail.
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