Planning a trip to Italy as a coffee lover? You’re in for a treat! Italy is renowned for its authentic coffee culture and the quality of its espresso (psst… it’s not e”x”presso). However, ordering coffee in Italy can be a bit different than ordering coffee in other parts of the world. To help you navigate the Italian coffee scene like a pro, there’s a few things you’re going to want to know to make the most of your coffee experience in Italy.
Italian Coffee Basics
First, let’s talk about the basics. In Italy, coffee is usually ordered at the bar (as in the cafe counter). This is because an espresso is often drunk on the go. Since you’re not sitting down or dirtying a table when you drink your espresso at the bar, you’ll be charged less. However, if you want to sit down and sip your espresso in “dolce far niente” mode, you’ll be charged a little extra. Another thing to note, it’s customary for Italians to not drink coffee with milk after noon, so if you want a cappuccino or a latte, (and you don’t want to look like a tourist) it’s better to order it in the morning.
Pro-tip: Can’t have your coffee without milk, but don’t want to get the stink eye from your barista? Do as we do and order a caffe macchiato! Macchiato means stained in Italian, as in your coffee will be served with just a stain of milk.
Tips for Ordering Your Coffee Like an Italian
Is it your first time ordering coffee in Italy? Or your first time visiting Italy in general? If you’re worried that you’ll make mistakes during your trip to Italy, you can avoid them by grabbing our FREE ITALY INSIDER – which outlines the Top 10 mistakes even smart travelers make on their trip to Italy! Click here to grab yours now!
Now, let’s cover a few common phrases that you may hear in Italian coffee shops and what they mean. These phrases will not only help you order your coffee during your trip to Italy, but will also help you understand the menu so that you can make informed decisions. No more panic-ordering and wondering if you’ll be served an Italian coffee you like or not!
- Un caffè: This is a shot of espresso. It’s the most common coffee in Italy, and you can order it at any time of the day. A shot of espresso is relatively small, so be prepared to receive it in a small espresso cup. If you order un caffé expecting a traditional American cup of black coffee, your reaction to the small espresso cup that the barista hands you may immediately give you away as a tourist.
- Doppio Espresso: This is a double espresso, perfect if you need an extra shot of energy or want something that you can sip on for a little bit longer than a single shot.
- Caffè macchiato: This is an espresso “marked” with a dash of milk. It’s perfect if you want a little bit of frothy milk in your coffee. The caffé macchiato that you get in Italy is a traditional macchiato–so don’t expect the large, sweet concoction that you would receive in America when ordering one at Starbucks. A traditional macchiato is much smaller and has no added sweetener. It is essentially a shot of espresso with a stain of milk. When you order this drink you may also be asked if you want “latte caldo” or “latte freddo” as in do you want warm milk or cold milk. Most bars will automatically serve it with “latte caldo” – steamed milk, but if you’re at a restaurant they may ask if you want cold milk especially if you’re having a “macchiato” after your lunch or dinner.
- Cappuccino: This is a shot of espresso with steamed milk and foam. Remember, it’s best to order this in the morning as Italians typically do not drink coffee with milk in the afternoons.
- Caffè americano: This is an espresso diluted with hot water. It’s a little bit like a drip coffee in the United States. Perfect if you want a larger coffee drink that you can sip on for a little while longer.
- Un caffè corretto: This is an espresso “corrected” with a shot of liquor, usually grappa or brandy. It’s a traditional after-dinner drink in Italy.
- Caffè latte: This is most similar to what you call in America or Canada a “Latte”, steamed milk with a shot of espresso.
Pro-tip: Don’t just order a “latte”. Latte in Italian means milk and all you will get is a glass of milk minus the espresso.
Italian Coffee Traditions
In Italy, coffee is more than just a drink. It’s a social ritual and a way of life. Here are a few traditions you might want to try while visiting Italy if you would like to experience the local coffee culture:
- The Italian breakfast: Italians don’t usually have a big breakfast like what’s often had in other parts of the world. Instead, they have a quick espresso and a sweet pastry, like a croissant or a brioche or better yet a Maritozzo! Wondering where to eat one of the best Maritozzi in Italy? When you join us on tour based out of Ascoli Piceno we’ll give you the lowdown on where to have the best Maritozzo and cappuccino in town plus many more recommendations inside the Vacation Vault which is included in every single tour.
- The coffee break: In Italy, it’s common to take a coffee break in the afternoon, usually around 3 pm or as late as 4 pm, depending on where you are in the country. It’s a chance to relax and recharge before finishing the workday.
- The after-dinner coffee: In Italy, it’s customary to have a small espresso after dinner. It’s believed to aid digestion.
- Coffee at the Bar: As mentioned earlier, it costs less to sip coffee standing up when you’re visiting a cafe in Italy. It’s also a great way to experience Italian coffee culture and mingle with the locals.
Don’t know the difference between an Italian Bar and an American bar? Click here to uncover the do’s and don’t of etiquette for tourists in Italy.
- The Caffé Sospeso: This is the tradition of purchasing two coffees and leaving one behind for someone else to enjoy. It is considered an act of kindness and is greatly appreciated in Italian culture.
Italian Coffee Don’ts
To wrap up, it’s time to cover a few rigid “don’ts” when ordering coffee or visiting a coffee shop in Italy. If you don’t do any of the following and stick to the rest of the tips above, you might even have the locals thinking you’re one of them!
- Don’t ask for a latte. In Italy, “latte” means plain white milk – not a caffeinated beverage. So, unless you’re ready to drink a glass of plain white milk accompanied by the judgemental stares of the baristas behind the counter, we recommend sticking with a doppio or any other beverage listed in our “Tips for Ordering Your Coffee Like an Italian” section above.
- Don’t order a cappuccino – or any other coffee beverage with milk – after noon. As mentioned in the sections above, it is frowned upon to drink coffee with milk in the afternoon or evening as it is believed that this will mess with your digestion. Can’t handle coffee without milk? Check out the pro-tip listed under “Italian Coffee Basics” above to get our hack for drinking socially acceptable Italian coffee after lunch.
- Don’t worry about consuming TOO much coffee – it’s totally normal to have two to three coffees per day in Italy. No one will judge you for ordering a doppio in the morning, afternoon, and evening. Chantelle is living proof! And will make sure you get your coffee fix just right when you join us on tour in Italy!
- Don’t linger at the coffee shop or try to whip out your laptop. Coffee shops in Italy don’t function the same way as they do in America or Scandinavian countries where it is the norm to settle in for hours to work out of your laptop. Most Italian coffee shops won’t even offer the WiFi password because they expect patrons to drink their coffee and head out. And let’s be honest, you’re on vacation after all! Unplugging from work and your laptop lifestyle is essential to truly unwinding on your trip to Italy.
Ready to unplug and take the guesswork out of your next Italian vacation? Click here to discover your next Italian vacation today! On our boutique small group Italy tours you’ll sit back and relax knowing everything is taken care of.
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