Coffee is an essential part of everyday life in Italy, akin to an art-form and nigh on a religion. There’s a myriad of Italian coffee on the menu from Espresso to Caffé Shakerato – then there are the two, three or four different ways they’re served. But there are ground rules. Read on for everything you need to know about ordering your coffee in Italy.
Updated Jan 2021
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Italian Coffee Culture – the rules
Coffee culture in Italy is a serious past-time and comes with its own etiquettes and customs. If you want to drink your coffee like a local let’s get to grips with the ground rules – just so we don’t commit any coffee faux pas.
Where to drink your coffee in Italy
In Italy a bar is not a bar, at least not like the bars we’re familiar with in the UK or USA. In Italy a bar is actually a café (caffé) and sells snacks, pastries and alcohol but mainly it sells coffee. Fast coffee. Coffee on the go. These bars are generally called just ‘Bar’ with no name out front. The bars in pretty squares and main tourist areas will be more expensive. Head down the side roads for a more authentic, and cheaper, coffee hit.
Ordering coffee in Italy
Expect to pay for your caffè first and then go to the counter and order from the best Italian coffee brands. You’ll need to keep your receipt for this. Scroll down to check out the different types of Italian coffee below and, importantly, how to pronounce their names. If you choose to sit outside at a table you’ll probably get waiter service.
Coffee at the counter (al banca)
Most Italians will drop by a bar and order an on-the-go espresso. It’s ordered at the till and downed, like you’d slam down a shot, whilst standing at the counter (al banca). This all takes less than five minutes and is reflected in the cost. If you want to linger over your caffé, maybe with a canollo, then you’ll pay more to sit at a table. Especially if it’s outside in a touristy location.
Coffee at a table (al tavolo)
When drinking your coffee in Italy, if you’re a local, it’s unusual to sit at a table (al tavolo) unless you’re in a tourist area where it’s accepted. However, if you want to take your time and indulge in a bit of people watching whilst sipping your Macchiato you’ll be charged accordingly and will pay lat least a few euros more than if you stand at al banca. I love a bit of people watching and, for me, sitting at a table with a caffé and conollo is an essential part of my Italian trip.
When to drink your coffee in Italy
You’ll get a few odd looks from the locals if you order a Cappuccino or milky coffee after 11 a.m. or after a meal. A milky drink on a full stomach is most definitely frowned upon. If you must order a Cappuccino after your meal, at least have the decency to look embarrassed…
If you order a latte in Italy you’ll get a glass of milk and probably an odd look to go with it. In Italian latte means ‘milk’. So unless you actually want a glass of milk you’ll need to order your coffee by name. Scroll down to see the different types of coffee in Italy and how to pronounce them.
espresso, americano, cortado
Italian Coffee types
So, now you have the ground rules on some of Italy’s coffee customs and how to drink your caffé in Italy. Next, we’ll get acquainted with ten different types of coffee. Guaranteed to perk up your day…
1. Un Caffé (Espresso / Caffé Normale / Short Black)
Italians drink lots of coffee – they drink it small and they drink it fast. It’s a pick-me-up and a quick caffeine kick. ‘Caffé’ is what we’d call an espresso. It’s served, not too hot, in a petite espresso cup and saucer, thick, dark and without milk and comes with a complimentary glass of water.
You can take your Espresso (never eXpresso) short (ristretto) or long (lungo) depending whether you like it with more or less hot water. It’s not as diluted as an Americano and more authentic. If you need a proper caffeine hit go for a Caffé Doppio (corsivo) which is simply a double shot espresso.
Espresso with a side of water
2. Caffé Americano
This is a long black coffee, espresso topped up with hot water, and my choice for an after dinner coffee – a neat espresso would keep me awake – the same amount of caffeine, I know, but it’s all in the mind!
3. Caffé Freddo or Cappuccino Freddo
This is iced black coffee that has usually already been mixed with sugar and chilled in a bottle in the fridge. If you don’t want it sugared ask for ‘non zuccherato‘. It’s served in a glass (al vetro).
4. Caffé Macchiato
If you don’t fancy a milky coffee but can’t do without a dash of milk then a Macchiato might be your answer. An espresso is stained or spotted with a tiny froth of milk and served in a demitasse cup.
Macchiato is betwixt an espresso and a cappucino and perfect for those who don’t like their caffè to strong or too milky. Like cappucino, this is only usually drunk in the mornings due the latte element but I think you’d get away with later in the day.
5. Caffé Shakerato
Shakerato means shaken up and involveds a shot of espresso, lightly sweetened and shaken with ice in a cocktail shaker. A delicious cloud of foamy froth tops off the glass and a vanilla liqueur is sometimes added. It’s the perfect pick-me-up for a hot summer’s day and bars will start serving from when the weather starts to heat up.
6. Caffè Estivo
Translates as summer coffee. Basically an espresso topped with con panna (cream) and buckets of foam. Looks pretty but there’s a lot of foam (shiumato) to get through before you hit the espresso.
7. Caffé Corretto
I love the way the name ‘correct coffee’ implies that your Espresso is faulty until it has been corrected with a sneaky dash of grappa, brandy or liqueur. I find Tia Maria works well – maybe I should research further on this one. This is a perfect after-dinner caffè to round off your meal.
8. Caffè Ginseng
An espresso with added ginseng extract. A definite pick-me-up…
We all love a Cappuccino – espresso with steamed, frothy milk added so that there is a clean layer of milk foam on top. Served in a larger cup (tazza grande). Coffee art adds to the look with intricate patterns and designs. Add chocolate shavings or cocoa powder and you’ve got Cappuccino con Cioccolato. Don’t forget though – never after 11 a.m.
10. Caffè Marocchino aka Espressino or Mocacchino
Served in a glass demitasse – so you can see all those layers of gorgeousness. The inside of the glass is sprinkled with cacao (chocolate powder) followed by a shot of espresso and topped with a generous dollop of milk foam. If there’s not enough cacao a further sprinkling tops off this little gem of a coffee. Wonderful.
Mocacchino Coffee in Italy
Coffee art is a big thing nowadays, not just in Italy, but all over the world. If you’re not up to creating hearts and swirls in your coffee then maybe a coffee stencil will satisfy your creative coffee cravings. Just lay the stencil over your cup and sprinkle on hot chocolate. Easy!
I hope I’ve provided a little enlightenment on Italian coffee culture and whetted your appetite with a little coffee inspiration. What’s your favourite Italian cofee? Come on spill the beans…
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