Many of us enjoy a cup of coffee first thing in the morning or in the middle of our workday. We may not be aware of the cultural rituals that exist around our daily cup, but they’re there nonetheless.
Italian cafe culture is a whole different animal, much older than the North American tradition, with its own unique set of quirks and particularities.
So how should you order coffee in Italy? Let’s find out.
When you’re hunting for a morning coffee you’ll want to be on the lookout for “il bar” or “il caffè” — both have the same meaning as a cafe or coffee shop in English. Italians tend not to have dedicated cafes; most places will serve both coffee and alcohol.
Italian etiquette tends towards a quick experience when it comes to drinking coffee. It’s called “espresso” for a reason. The typical coffee experience involves ordering at the bar, sipping your espresso in a few quick gulps while standing, paying, and being on your way. Keep in mind that the standard coffee drink in Italy is espresso, though it’s often called caffè or caffè normale. If you don’t want an espresso, you’ll need to adjust your order.
Head to the counter; you may want to throw out a confident “Buon Giorno” to get attention or catch the eye of the waitstaff. If you don’t want a caffè, there’s only a handful of other drinks that you will find in most Italian cafes. Let’s review those now.
If you’re not ordering a caffè, you’re likely ordering a cappuccino. The cappuccino is espresso, milk foam, and steamed milk. The way they’re served in Italy, you may find the cappuccino more closely mirrors what you’re used to as a latte in North America. Sample a few and adjust accordingly. Keep in mind that coffee with milk is considered heavy; it’s traditionally consumed only before noon. If you order a 4 p.m. cappuccino, you may find yourself getting strange looks from the staff. It’s also unheard of for Italians to order a cappuccino after a meal.
In Italy, a caffè latte will be a shot of espresso, with double the volume of steamed milk, and a touch of foam. It's always consumed in the morning as well. You may find lattes in Italy to be colder (warm milk vs hot milk) that you’re used to in many places.
Just like at home, an Americano will be a watered-down shot of espresso. Kind of a classic dig by Italians, but not everyone wants to sip rocket fuel strength espresso shots. It’s a common enough order that cafes will be used to making these.
Do you want to know an acceptable way to drink coffee with milk in the afternoon? Ask for a macchiato. This is an espresso that is “marked” with a dash of milk. You can get away with ordering this drink any time of day.
You may not be familiar with a “corrected” coffee at home, but what if you need to focus and relax? A splash of booze in your coffee is the answer, made simple by the fact that most coffees are served in venues that are also bars. You can choose the liquor, but grappa is one of the most common choices among locals.
To beat the heat, a caffè freddo is your answer. Typical throughout Italy, you may want to call upon this refreshing drink come summertime. This drink is espresso shaken in a cup with ice and sugar until it gets a bit of a frothy consistency.
How to order your coffee in Italian
Now that you know what to order, you may want to know how to order coffee in Italian.
Start with a friendly “Buon Giorno” to the staff. After that you can use “Vorrei un caffè per favore.” (I’d like a coffee, please.) If you want a different drink, substitute that one for “un caffè.” The more casual “Un caffè per favore” is also perfectly acceptable.
We hope you have a great time in Italy. A little coffee will help you keep your energy up for all kinds of Italian adventures.