Before we can even begin to talk about coffee, let’s just get one thing straight.
Coffee in Italy is espresso (soft sounding “s”) not eXpresso. It’s a common mistake. I’m not judging you, but it’s one that makes Italians cringe, and if you love the stuff, it’s only polite that you get the pronunciation right from the beginning.
Now that that’s cleared up, let’s talk about that delicious dark master, AKA, caffè. I know I’m not alone in my love, but having lived here for years, I really have developed quite the espresso addiction.
I can easily put away 2-4 shots of the stuff a day and still sleep like a baby at night. But, if there is one thing all this caffeine has taught me, it’s that the coffee culture in Italy can be confusing and downright intimidating to foreigners.
But don’t fear, I’m putting my addiction to good use, helping you all become coffee pros for your next trip.
Below are the major types of coffee enjoyed in Italy and when to drink them. Let’s start with the morning.
First, you might be wondering, what exactly is Italian caffè? The basis for all coffee drinks in Italy is the mighty espresso, a strong, concentrated black coffee made by forcing steam through finely ground coffee beans. From there, various drinks are created. At breakfast time though, really any combination goes.
Some of the most popular breakfast drinks are:
— Cappuccino – Half coffee, half milk, with foam on top (hint: oftentimes, if you’re ordering two or more, you’ll hear Italians say “cappucci,” not “cappuccini” for the plural).
— Caffè Latte – More milk than coffee and without the froth.
— Latte Macchiato – For coffee newbies, mostly just warm milk with a dash of espresso.
Hint: These are breakfast drinks, meaning, an Italian would never order a heavy milky coffee drink after a meal. Italians think it’s very bizarre that Americans can eat dinner and then order a cappuccino, so if you want to be authentic, stick with something less milky post-meals, and leave these drinks for the morning hours.
Afternoon pick me up:
Ahh, one of my favorite traditions.
Every afternoon, when nature calls for my dog Stella, we head out for a potty break for her and a coffee for me. My local bar knows my name and my drink of choice to battle my 3pm slump.
“Il solito?” “The usual?” they ask when I walk in. “Si,” I always reply and shimmy up to the bar, il banco, to enjoy my drink standing with the rest of the afternoon crowd.
Pick your poison from the following and you can’t go wrong:
— Espresso – Now is the perfect time to enjoy a straight shot of this deliciousness.
— Caffè lungo /Caffè alto – Espresso, but with just a smidge more water allowed to run through the machine; this is my afternoon favorite because I can drink it without adding sugar.
— Caffè Americano – Espresso mixed with lots of water.
— Caffè Macchiato – Coffee with a dollop of milk foam; acceptable amount of milk that it can be imbibed at any hour.
— Caffè Ristretto – Espresso with less water than usual.
— Caffè Shakerato – Espresso, mixed with sugar, shaken with ice, served in a martini glass. AKA heaven on earth on a scorching summer day.
You’ve just had your weight in pasta, plus a secondo, and a dessert and now the waitress is asking expectedly, “Caffè?”
I almost always say yes (don’t judge, I admitted from the beginning I have an addiction) but knowing what to order can be tricky at this time of day, too. Besides the caffè normale (espresso) why not try:
— Caffè corretto – Espresso with a shot of grappa or sambuca mixed in (it’s good, I swear!)
— Caffè Doppio – A double shot; perfect for when you really have to stay awake after all that food.
Some things to consider
A few more notes on the coffee culture in Italy, to be sure you hit the bar (the coffee bar that is) with confidence:
— Coffee is called caffè – it would be weird to order an “espresso”, as that is the technical term. If you want just a standard espresso, just ask for “caffè.”
— In some bars you have to pay first, and if the bar isn’t familiar with you, then this is always a best practice. Just head to the register, pay, and then take the receipt (lo scontrino) over to barman for your coffee.
— Speaking of bars, in Italy, a coffeehouse is a bar, and a place to drink alcohol is a pub.
— “Prendiamo un Caffè?” – Memorize this line. “Let’s have a coffee?” You will use it often!
— If you want to see how a typical interaction in a bar would play out when you order a caffè and make small talk, read this dialogue.
Want to drink coffee, eat pasta, and learn Italian with The Iceberg Project in Italy? See if you can make the next Not Your Typical Tourist Language Immersion Retreat in Tuscany. Get more details here.