You may or may not be aware of the importance of coffee in Italian culture. The locals embrace every cup of coffee – drinking it is an enjoyable and relaxing moment to enjoy the flavour and smell of the coffee, with friends or family or during a quick coffee break (‘una pausa‘). But do you really know how to order it? Here’s a short guide for you to use in Italy so you can ‘act like an Italian’ at the local coffee bar.
Stand, don’t sit
First of all, when taking your coffee you stand at the bar with all the other Italians to drink it. In the larger towns and cities, they usually charge a supplement for sitting at a table.
Milk is for the morning
Part of the Italian coffee-drinking etiquette is to only drink milky coffees in the morning. Never after a meal. If you do order a cappuccino, caffè latte or a latte macchiato after lunchtime, you may get a funny look, but you will be served it nonetheless.
There are no size differentials in Italy. Request a grande or a venti and you’ll be met with confusion. It’s standard sizes here.
Latte is not a latte
If you’re looking forward to a milky coffee, served in a glass, prepare to be disappointed. In Italy, asking for a latte is asking for a simple cup of cold milk. Remember to put “caffè” before it when ordering.
Ask for an Americano and you may get alcohol
Similar to ordering a latte, you should remember to put “caffè” before Americano. This is because in Italy, an Americano is a strong aperitivo!
Now you know the dos and donts, here’s how to order the following types of coffee:
When you order a simple caffè, an espresso will be served, by default. It’s the traditional strong shot of coffee. You can ask for this either lungo (long) or corto (short). In Italy they don’t use the word espresso because there’s no other coffee to differentiate it from. It will be served in a small cup on a saucer with a small spoon.
Or simply ‘Americano’ is the classic large black coffee (espresso filled with hot water). If you want it with milk, say ‘con latte’.
Cappuccino (or ‘cappuccio’)
This will come in a large cup, as an espresso with a froth of steamed milk on top. Don’t make the mistake: ordering a cappuccino straight after lunch/dinner is not Italian at all, as it’s considered too heavy on the stomach. Cappuccino is traditionally taken in the morning, along with cookies or a flaky pastry.
A cup of hot milk with an espresso. Don’t confuse it with caffè macchiato! It’s rarely ordered at a bar, more likely to be enjoyed in the home, served in a mug or a bowl (perfect for dipping biscuits in!). Many Italians make it in a Moka pot (small coffee machine).
It’s an espresso ‘stained’ with a dash of milk. You can also ask for ‘macchiato caldo‘ (hot milk) or ‘macchiato freddo‘ (cold milk).
The opposite of a caffè macchiato. It’s a cup or glass of hot milk ‘stained’ with a dash of coffee!
This is two shots of caffè (espresso).
This is becoming more and more popular in Milan and northern Italy, and was invented in Piedmont. It consists of a shot of espresso served in a glass, with frothed milk and cocoa powder sprinkled over. In some regions of northern Italy, thick hot cocoa is also added, and in Alba (home of Ferrero), Nutella is used.
Caffè ‘corrected’ with grappa, sambuca or another liquor – strong, so not to be ordered at breakfast!
“Prendiamo un caffè?” – fancy a coffee?
Tina James is the Managing Director at Headwater Holidays.