Chinotto: A Hate Letter to an Italian Beverage

I have no loving words to bestow upon chinotto.

To me, it is an Italian drink without redemption.

Chinotto is baffling. Deeply bitter, darkly colored, and too lightly carbonated, I can’t stomach the liquid for long enough to find any complexity in its flavors.

The drink is made with the fruit of a chinotto tree – a tree I never knew existed and could happily have lived my life in blissful ignorance of its presence.

A type of citrus, the tree is found in Northern Italy, from whence the drink originates. Even the plant itself is unattractive and shrubby – possibly foreshadowing the undesirable nature of its fruit and the inedible nature of the resulting drink.

Chinotto is supposedly refreshing. It is supposedly a good alternative to orange juice.

But I hate it with a burning passion. I hate it more than fette biscottate!! (And for the record, I hate those stupid toast-shaped-cookies quite a lot).

Chinotto and I clearly got off on the wrong foot, and our relationship has been in unsalvageable.

I first tried chinotto accidentally. Scanning the shelves of my neighborhood supermarket, I discovered what I believed to be a discount cola.

I took the dark liquid home and heard the satisfying hiss of fizz when I opened the bottle. As I started unpacking my other groceries, I took a casual sip and then, cartoon-style, I ran to the sink and spit it out as quickly as possible.

Hard pass.

Italy has a long and happy love affair with bitter beverages. From the campari that colors a spritz to the amari that are served after dinner. Yet, that acrid memory of chinotto remains burned in my sensory memory even while I enjoy those other drinks.

I will take a vaffancola over a chinotto any day.

Have you tried this Italian drink? Are you a convert? Then go ahead: try to convince me!

46 thoughts on “Chinotto: A Hate Letter to an Italian Beverage

  1. Tony Staffaroni says:

    Now I want to try to it see for myself if it is as bad as you say. I am guessing I cannot find it in the US. I will have to wait for my next trip to the bel paese to take the taste test. 🙂

    • Mary says:

      I love chinotto!!! It has that bitter taste which quenches my thirst and it is both bubbly and sweet at the same time! That distinct flavour cannot be found in any other drink!! The aroma is intoxicating!! I am addicted to Brio Chinotto!! I am drinking one right this minute!! Salute!!!

  2. Chipo says:

    I had my first taste last night. I only took a sip because I thought it was high in caffeine..( caffeine makes me sick) I managed to swallow it so I actually think I don’t mind it. Now I want to really it…?.

  3. Lindsay says:

    Tony, you can find it here in the US. Mainly just at specialty stores, and proper Italian cafes. While I don’t share the hate for Chinotto, I will admit it is an acquired taste… and definitely will agree that if you take a sip thinking it’s going to be cola like, you’re going to be in store for quite a surprise. I LOVE amari, but I’m only so-so on this effervescent beverage. I’ve had it a couple times, but it doesn’t quite have enough personality, flavor wise, for me to really ever reach for it again. My two cents.

  4. Robert says:

    I have been going part time every year to Rome for 39 years since my full year physics postdoc experience and I have frequently been offered these weird foul tasting aperativo drinks over the years which I always try to avoid. Chinotto is at the top of the list. When the lunar eclipse grabbed our attention a few weeks ago in Rome, our long time friend with whom we had had dinner offered us that orange aperativo drink you often see people drinking in large red wine glasses at outdoor seating in cafes in the late afternoon in Rome, I don’t know what it is called. She mixed it with a few other things, so that when I tasted it initially, I realized I could down the whole thing without making faces, but politely declined a refill. I just don’t get this love affair with medicinal tasting liquids! But in the spirit of tolerance, let them drink what they wish!

  5. carla alessandro says:

    Moretti makes an alcoholic chinotto flavored beer – I would recommend trying it! It tastes a bit like root beer with a kick ?. The anziani love chinotto for some reason – I think it’s a generational thing. And the fette biscottate…. my partner loves them in the morning – apparently it’s like a digestive biscuit.. but have I have not yet acquired the taste for these… (what taste?) … especially with all the not-so-healthy delicious cornetti options available!

  6. Sue says:

    It is stocked in some supermarkets in Australia. Personally, I love it but then again, I am a huge fan of bitter sweet anything.

  7. Len Corsetti says:

    Tony, It’s available in the U.S. at Italian markets. Multiple brands. See my photo in the “An American in Rome” Facebook posting on this. If you can’t find it and have to ask: If the clerk is Italian, make sure you say “Key-notto”. If the clerk is not Italian, you might want to ask for “Chee-notto”.

  8. Sarina says:

    I first tried it when I was 8 years old and visiting relatives in Sicily(from Australia). We were visiting a neighbour and she gave me this big glass of brown fizzy drink. Like you I thought it was coke. No, no it wasn’t. It was the dreaded Chinotto. My dad told me I had to drink it all or it would be rude.(brutta figura and all that rubbish). Never touched it again.

  9. Jan says:

    I like Chinotto. I don’t love it, but I like it, especially if it is a less commercial sort of brand (not that I can remember which ones), served over ice. It reminds me of summer. I also don’t find it that bitter. I like Aperol spritzes, too. Although I am getting to be an older American, I don’t think I am “anziana” yet and I know much younger Italians who like Chinotto, too. I have only ever had it in Italy. I never thought to look for it in the U.S.

  10. Jose says:

    i think chinotto is the liquid applied to joinery to give it the desired dark patina before the varnish is actually applied. now just where did i hear of that before?

    • Claudia says:

      Ad esempio su tutta la riva meridionale del Lago di Garda. I fianchi delle montagne lì sono letteralmente COPERTI di agrumeti.

  11. carl kelly says:

    Can no longer get it in nfld. Canada my son and I loved it as a treat especially with pizza…would consider becoming a local distributor if the opportunity arose.

  12. Rojo says:

    Very frankly, from a country where one of the most popular drinks is a nauhseabond hypersweet (supposedly) cherry flavoured soda which the name itself (Dr. Pepper) suggests its probable origins as a cough syrup (which would explain the abominable taste), I accept no criticism.
    Joking of course

  13. Mikey G says:

    You can often find Chinotto at Smart and Final and other large chain grocery stores in the US
    Personally, I like it though I can understand why some folks don’t. I cut it with soda water or even iced tea, which makes for a good drink on a hot summer’s day. And yes, it’s yet another of those things that go better with Coke

    • Stacey Kohut says:

      Lurisia’s Il Nostro Chinotto is lovely. I like the flavor and smell of it so much that I just bought a perfume called Chinotto Dark. The aromatics are wonderfully complex. If it’s too overpowering for you, try cutting it with prosecco.

  14. Rik says:

    Blasphemy lol This stuff is amber nectar! When all other fizzy drinks are sickly sweet, this little can is satisfyingly unapologetically bitter. Best served ice cold on hot day, my only regret is you can’t get it in the uk. Worth a try if you see it 🙂

  15. Fabio says:

    Chinotto is awesome and you are an American in Rome, in the most demeaning way you can imagine.

  16. Lucie says:

    Have you tried it with lager? Half and half like a shandy. It’s really lovely, refreshing but the bitterness is tempered that way and I have known this combination to convert others.

    • Natalie says:

      I have! It is still not for me. But I like some of the suggestions to try cutting it with something else

      • Raquel says:

        I am Italian-Brazilian, here in Campinas – São Paulo state, we can find Chinotto in special stores all over town. I love it! When I want to behave, I drink Chinotto instead of Negronis.

  17. campbell says:

    I like chinotto. I also like Campari and Aperol though. I’m American too. We can all like different things. Your post was funny.

    • Natalie says:

      I also like Campari! (As well as Aperol, but prefer Campari). I don’t know why the bitterness of chinotto in particular puts me off but thank you for reading and understanding. Glad you enjoy it!

  18. diana says:

    Chinotto is from a bitter orange kind of the bad spawn of the orange. Almonds got the same thing and the bitter almond is –unfortunately today exctinct and illegal to sale– due to FDA regulation. Chinotto cultivation is limited to certain areas of the mediterranean region (including France).
    Since I grew up with it …..I loved it. Definetely bitter flavors are more popular in southern europe and are an acquired taste. Maybe people who like bitter are also wired differently in their taste buds……LOL. I always crave bitter flavors. When I moved to the US I replaced Chinotto with Tonic water as it was the closest thing for me to that memory. Chinotto has some medicinal properties and just like many “bitters” it helps with digestion…that’s why is used also as a digestivo. Of course Italian Digestif also have very bitter liqueurs, Petrus was one of them and I hear Germans have a similar ones as well (Jägermeister I think).
    Oh yes and “Pizza con wusterl” is delicious…..but I don’t eat wusterl any longer nor pizza.
    I love bitters but unfortunately due to my chronic illness I am forced to drink hideous bitter drinks and various potions……Nothing in my life will ever top Andrographis….Chinotto is cotton candy compared to it.

  19. Ken says:

    Ok people we are on a trip through Italy and we stopped to get fuel and something to drink well guess what i bought? Well lets just say NO THANK YOU! We had to stop the car and spit it out it has a taste like Ricola cough drops with ground up Figs with a light taste of Root beer. Well we are in a new country trying new things and i can say with confidence it will never end up in our hands again.

  20. W. Kiernan says:

    I love chinotto. It’s my favorite soft drink. However, tastes differ, so it’s OK with me if you don’t like it. Have fun in Rome!

  21. Balda says:

    Sorry, but this cannot be even compared to “Marmite – love it or hate it” situation. Yes, the whole world can listen now to somebody’s rant about hating something – that’s the benefit of ease of getting publicity on the Internets. There are several producers of Chinotto, the taste and degree of carbonization differs quite much, depending on producer. I will not write “love letter” to Chinotto – all I can say is that our stupid distributors import all varieties of Sanpellegrino soft drinks except Chinotto. Thus, I order it from german Amazon in bulk, paying for shipping more, than the cost of the drink itself. Go figure.

  22. Nick Barbarossi says:

    I don’t understand how people claim to be “foodies” yet can’t handle getting past the discomfort of experiencing something that first tastes strange and gross the first few times… that they cannot get to experience what all the rage actually is about.

    That’s like going to see an amazing film that is changing peoples lives and saying you won’t watch it because you’re annoyed by subtitles. While also considering yourself a lover of film.

    • Natalie says:

      I do think it is a bit ridiculous to think that disliking a single drink is a crime. It is not an issue with amaro “discomfort.”

  23. Brooke says:

    It tastes great cut 50/50 with sparkling water. Too strong (for my tastes) otherwise, like a syrup. But delicious diluted.

  24. skye Cerrelli says:

    How childish, nobody is unique and nuanced. I wouldn’t expect anyone who likes sugar water (coke) to understand this. The addiction to sugar that we have in North America creates a weird expectation that we should require this oversaturated tasteless sweet experience everytime we desire a soft drink or desert. Chinotto is probably the best drink I’ve ever had, infortunately I have trouble getting it in Montreal, Canada.

  25. John c says:

    As an Italian background chinotto is an acquired taste best for ppl who candle bitter flavours, first sip won’t do it for you. The fruit is like the blood orange and bitter in its pure form its not black but a dark or light orange colour, and with a fruit picture on the bottle. Overall it has about 50% less sugar and salt than Coke and colas and No caffeine . I think it needs the high soda fizz to make it drinkable and has to be chilled. it can be a good drink with spirits that are sweet i.e brandy.

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