It is widely accepted that people in Italy take their coffee very seriously (if not, by and large, over-roasted and terrible). So serious, in fact, that coffee has become a modern means of extortion by the mafia.

According to a recent article in The Guardian, Italian crime families are forcing bars and restaurants are being “bullied into selling specific coffee brands promoted by mobsters,” who then take a cut of the profits.

“Coffee is the new racket,” said author Antonio Nicaso, one of the world’s leading mafia experts and university lecturer in Canada and the US.

“Bar and restaurant owners are willing to pay the higher prices for fear of retribution. It’s a subtler way to extort money from owners of bars and restaurants – a difficult method for the police to intercept,” he said.

According to the article, one group “made owners buy minimum coffee orders of €20,000” ($23,500 USD). If the business owners were unable to pay the amount, the crime families would then take over the establishment.

And one member of an Italian crime family has even gone from coffee racket to coffee business. Concetta Riina, daughter of late Sicilian crime boss Salvatore “Totó” Riina, created an online espresso store with her husband—“Antonio Ciavarello, who is under house arrest for fraud”—called Uncle Totó. Before shutting down after the Italian media caught whiff of a coffee line named after a man “believed responsible for about 150 murders,” the store included a Zu’ Totó range server and a pre-order for espresso pods, which were “to raise money after police seized the family’s savings.”

In light of all this, I’m willing to grant that Italians do in fact take their coffee more seriously than the rest of the world. Not in the “this coffee could be just a little better so I’m going to obsess over it for the next hour” sort of way, but in the “buy this or else” way.

Zac Cadwalader is the news editor at Sprudge Media Network and a staff writer based in Dallas. Read more Zac Cadwalader on Sprudge.

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