Lungo, ristretto, corretto, macchiato, marocchino, in vetro. You would think ordering a coffee in Italy is a simple task, but ask any barista and he would beg to differ. The list of the requirements Italians can have when ordering their bitter shot can go on and on, many customers adding their own personal features.
With brands like Illy, Lavazza, Profili, Trombetta, pretty much everywhere you will find great coffee brands across the country. Now that you are ready to fit in from your very Italy trip, here is how to order and enjoy your coffee!
Coffee in the Italian culture
The fragrant smell of the beloved toasted bean is what defines most Italian households first thing in the morning. A cornerstone of Italian society, you would typically go for a coffee for the most diverse reasons: to fully wake up in the morning, after lunch, at the end of a business meeting, to chat with a friend, to get the right boost in the middle of a long working day.
Here are some of the habits most Italians have when it comes to drinking coffee.
- Every time is a good time. We have coffee about every time of the day from morning to evening (the bravest), but NOT right before our meal. Usually, we like to end our meal with a coffee.
- Sign of hospitality. When you are offered a coffee, Italians are welcoming you in their home. Of course, if you don’t want a coffee you can ask for something else, I only drink coffee once a day after lunch so often when I’m invited I only take a glass of water.
- The king of social relations. “Quando andiamo a prendere un caffè?” (When can we go for a coffee?) usually has a broader meaning. In fact, when a friend wants to hang out for a chat, more often thank not he/she will ask you if you want to go for a coffee. Same as before, once at the bar/café, you can order whatever you want, as long as you have that chat!
Now that you know how important is our little espresso for us, do you want to know what are the dos and don’ts of drinking and ordering coffee in Italy? Scroll down and read on!
Ordering Coffee in Italy: Dos and Don’ts!
When you order coffee in Italy, DO:
- Call it caffè. If you want a shot Italian style, no need to call it “espresso”. Just tell the barista “un caffè per favore”, and this is what you will get. If you want a coffee American style, ask for “caffè americano”. If you ask for “caffè lungo” (long coffee), you will receive an Italian espresso with a little bit more water but most foreigners will still take it as a small shot.
- Have it at the counter. Do you want to enjoy your coffee completely Italian style? Then order and have it at the bar counter, just a quick shot and go like most Italians you will see there. Obviously, if you want to relax over a cup of coffee, maybe some cookies or chocolate, you can grab a table, but this way, they can charge you any fee, while if you have it at the counter, you will only pay the minimum, which goes from €0.80-1.
- Think bar vs. coffee shop. Between a bar and a cafè, your coffee experience will change quite a bit. For a quick shot and go, I suggest you enter a bar: fast and definitely cheaper. But if you want to sit and relax in a cosy ambience and cute décor, a coffee shop is your best choice.
- Navigate the options. This is not an easy task. Nowadays, the Italian bars have a huge list of coffee and coffee-type drinks on their menu, so you will really be spoilt for choice. So not only decaf, ristretto, macchiato (with a drop of milk) whether hot or cold, or corretto (with a drop of whiskey) but now you can order cappuccino with soy milk for the dairy-intolerants, ginseng cappuccino made with either soy or regular milk, marocchino coffee with some foamed milk and a sprinkle of chocolate powder, mocaccino, which is a chocolate-flavored caffè latte, orzo (barley coffee) if you want a bitter warm drink but without caffeine, ginseng and more. You are in Turin? Don’t miss their Bicerin!
When you order coffee in Italy, DON’T:
- Have it with or after your food. Be it coffee or cappuccino, in Italy, we cringe a little bit when we see someone ordering it as a drink during their meal. I mean, can you really have a cappuccino while eating spaghetti carbonara? Cappuccino is usually ordered for breakfast in Italy, but yeah, why not, if you really feel like it, enjoy one in the afternoon, too. In general, we don’t have a coffee with milk addition after our meals in Italy, so no cappuccino or caffè macchiato. Coffee is for whenever you like, just isolated or after your meals, not before.
- Have it walking. In Italy we HATE our coffee served in a plastic or paper/carton cup. We like to have it in the typical ceramic or glass cups, so you can’t really leave the bar. But that’s OK because our coffee is always “espresso”, fast and nice, so
- Overdo it. You know your metabolism, so you can decide at what time you should have your last coffee for the day. However, drinking coffee too late in the evening might give you problems falling asleep. I know it does for me, even though I do know people who can drink espresso after dinner and sleep just fine.
Rome-based travel writer, blogger and photographer.