Welcome to Italy. You’re in an Italian cafe, thinking about types of coffee drinks available, and what coffee in Italy to try. Here’s a quick primer to Italian coffee so that when ordering coffee in Italy you can blend in with the locals.
How to Order Espresso
The first useful tip towards ordering an espresso in Italy is — never order an “espresso.”
The word espresso is a technical term in Italy. What we consider a single shot “espresso” is, in fact, the default cup of coffee in Italy. Order un caffè — expecting a single shot espresso to arrive.
Espresso is the default coffee in Italy. A real Italian espresso is a beautiful thing to behold: a burst of thick, concentrated flavour with a touch of crema (creamy foam) on top.
If you prefer your espresso on the long side, feel free to order a caffè lungo, on the short side order a caffè ristretto.
The Variety of Espresso Drinks
Italians don’t like messing with coffee too much. You’ll find a small range of “acceptable” coffee-based drinks on most menus. Stick to these choices and you can do no wrong... with one possible exception.
The exception: most Italians only consider milk an acceptable breakfast time food, not in the afternoon, and not after a meal. You can still order a milk-based coffee during these times if you like, but you may garner a look from some baffled locals.
There are three basic drinks that form the foundation of Italian coffee culture — the caffè (remember this is an espresso), the cappuccino, and the caffé latte. There are a few common extensions to these and a few regional variants that might get you a nod of approval as a visitor.
One of the most commonly ordered variants you’ll see is the caffè macchiato or latte macchiato.
The caffè macchiato can be considered an espresso with just a bit of milk and the latte macchiato can be considered hot milk with just a bit of coffee. Do your best to keep your order to the morning.
If you’re really on vacation you might consider the caffè corretto, a favourite of Italian workmen, which is an espresso that has been “corrected” with a shot of brandy or perhaps some grappa.
Italy can be very hot at times, in that case, feel free to order a caffè freddo or cappuccino freddo, which are simply iced versions of those drinks. Coffee done freddo usually comes sweetened in advance, so keep that in mind.
Last, but not least, are the regional variants. These are some coffees that you can order in different parts of the country as they’re a regional speciality.
In Naples, feel free to order the un caffè alla nocciola. This is a foamy espresso that’s been mixed with hazelnut cream, a very popular flavour native to the area.
In Milan, go ahead an order un marocchino. This is made by dusting a small glass with cocoa powder, adding a dollop of milk froth, then espresso, with a final dusting of cocoa on top. Marocchino does exist throughout Italy, so you might discover it made in different variations depending on the region you’re in.
Now you’ll know how to enjoy your coffee break like a real Italian. Enjoy!