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10 Coffee Rules
Going to Italy? You’ll probably be wanting coffee there, am I right? So you might appreciate some advice on the subject, otherwise you’ll be lost, not to mention a tad cranky if you don’t get caffeinated. Don’t stress, I’m going to help you speak coffee fluently in Italy.
Coffee is sacrosanct in Italy. It’s serious business, a religion, an artform, and an important part of Italian culture. If you’re ordering coffee in Italy, you need to speak the traditional coffee language fluently, and I’m here to help you with 10 simple coffee rules you need to follow, so you don’t embarrass yourself. We’re not talking about Starbucks or McCafe here, so don’t expect to order what you normally do at these establishments. Italy prides itself on its coffee making and drinking, and has an illustrious coffee history. After all, there’s good reason why coffee terminology is all in Italian.
Being of good Italian stock, I grew up with serious coffee drinkers. Coffee is in my blood. And like most Italian households, the old caffettiera stove top coffee maker had pride of place in the kitchen, ready to go at all hours. It was never put away. Anytime of the day is a good time for coffee, as far as Italians are concerned, and can solve all manner of problems.
Un caffè, per favore (A coffee, please)
This is what you say to order a coffee in Italy. It’s really quite easy. Just stick to these simple tips to speak coffee fluently when in Italy. In some countries, ordering coffee requires choosing from a huge menu on the wall with endless coffee concoctions. This does not exist in Italy. Here, it’s fairly straight forward, because you don’t mess with the classics. The Italian Espresso National Institute has guidelines which are followed by the coffee industry.
Firstly, when deciding what to order, there are only limited options you can choose from, and they are:
a short black – un caffè
a long black – un caffè lungo
an extra strong short black – un caffè ristretto
a short black with a dash of milk – un caffè macchiato
a cappuccino – un cappuccino
a latte / a macchiato – un caffè latte / un latte macchiato
a short black with a shot of alcohol – un caffè corretto
And that’s basically it!
There are no flavours, syrups, mocha, whipped cream, frappe, or blended. You will even be hard-pressed to get low fat/skinny milk! And if you’re after soy milk? Almond milk? Rice milk? Lactose-free milk? Good luck!
This will shock many of you, but Italians don’t do takeaway coffee. Sorry. I know you love to walk around with a recyclable cup and lid, sipping as you go about your business, but in Italy that is a sin. Coffee is meant to be savoured and enjoyed, which requires stopping for a short break to do it properly and exchange pleasantries with the barista or other customers.
Another, thing that will disappoint many of you is that there are no sizes in coffee. What … ? I hear you scream. There is no small, medium, large, or tall. One size fits all! If you want more, it’s simple – order another one, ok?
When ordering a short black, un caffè is the same as un espresso. It’s a shot, 25-30ml, of concentrated black coffee. If you want a double shot, ask for doppio, or just order another.
Cappuccino or caffè latte is considered a breakfast drink only, because it consists mostly of milk. Italians consider milk difficult to digest later in the day. (I’m not sure why.) So never order a cappuccino after 12 noon, or you will be frowned upon, speaking from experience (but they will still serve it to you).
Macchiato is a short black coffee ‘stained’ with milk, either hot or cold. Caffè or macchiato are most commonly ordered anytime throughout the day. If you want it served specifically in a glass or a cup, you can ask (there are some options, see?).
Latte in Italian is milk. If you ask for a latte, the barista will serve you plain milk! They will probably ask you if you want it hot (caldo) or cold (freddo), you will then look at them confused, they will give you your milk, and you will be rather unsatisfied! Many tourists have made this embarrassing mistake. What you need to ask for is un caffè latte or un latte macchiato, which is a shot of coffee (25ml) with steamed milk and minimal froth. Or, un cappuccino which is a shot of coffee and less steamed milk and more froth, sometimes with cacao sprinkled on top.
Drinking your coffee standing up at the bar is cheaper than sitting down. A stand up coffee is common in the mornings, a quick pitstop, like fuelling up a car, taking no more than a minute or two, and then you’re off on your caffeinated way to start your day. Even if you’re having a caffe latte or cappuccino, you may think you need more time and need to sit down, but in Italy, the normal cup size used isn’t very big, approx. 150ml, which is quite small for many of us keen cappuccino drinkers. So it doesn’t take long to drink it. Furthermore, all coffee is served at the perfect temperature to drink immediately without the need for you to wait for it to cool down.
Finally, even though flavourings are unheard of here, putting booze in your coffee is perfectly acceptable! Gotta love Italy, don’t ya? This is called un caffè corretto, which is a ‘corrected’ coffee (not sure why it was incorrect in the first place!). A shot of grappa, sambuca or cognac (depending on the region) is served on the side in a small glass usually, to add to your black coffee. This originated in Northern Italy to help warm oneself in the cold Winters. Also, to aid digestion after meals, supposedly.
Other coffee tips
- A Bar and a Café are the same thing in Italy, i.e. coffee bar.
- Black coffee is often served with a glass of water to cleanse the palate, before you drink your coffee to savour the taste better.
- You can specify exactly how you want your coffee, as Italians are notoriously fussy, and the barista will be happy to make it as per your wishes, as long as you follow the rules, of course!
Quanto costa? (How much does it cost?)
A short black whilst standing up at the counter is about 1 euro. Sitting at a table, it is about 3 euros. Yes, it takes a lot to wipe down the table, ok?
A cappuccino whilst standing up at the counter is around 1.30 euro. Sitting down about 4 euros. Again, imagine the mess if you spill it! Mamma mia.
Tipping for a cup of coffee is not required. But if you insist on tipping, then 10 or 20 euro cents is more than enough.
- Italians pioneered the first espresso machine in 1884. Espresso is the method of making coffee, not the type of coffee. It means fast pressed coffee.
- Cappuccino was originally named after the Franciscan Capuchin monks who wore a brown coloured robe with a hood. The hood is called a cappuccio. The name was used because of the milky coffee colour. And for some reason, the name stuck.
- Coffee bars in Italy can get quite crowded during the morning coffee frenzy, which means you may need to do as the locals do and make yourself heard. So don’t be shy, or you could be waiting a while to get served.
- Up until recently there were no Starbucks in Italy. Much to the horror of many Italian coffee connoisseurs, the first one opened in Milan in 2018 and it remains to be seen whether it will be accepted in the coffee culture by locals or if the customers will primarily be tourists.
- The oldest cafe in Europe is the Florian in St Mark’s Square, Venice, since 1683. The second oldest cafe is Cafe Greco in Rome.
Simple phrases when ordering coffee in Italy
Because I care about my readers getting their coffee fix, I’m gonna give you a little crash course in Italian vocabulary, which will make the whole experience easier for you. You’re welcome (prego).
- ciao – hello/goodbye
- buon giorno – good morning/good day
- buona sera – good evening
- per favore – please
- vorrei – I would like
- grazie – thank you
- grazie mille – thank you very much
- zucchero – sugar
- latte – milk
- tè – tea
- bianco – white
- nero – black
- qualcos’altro – something else
- basta così – that’s all
- arrivederci– goodbye
And there you have it. I hope the 10 rules I’ve given you help you to speak coffee fluently in Italy and to enjoy the ritual like a true Italian.
Have you ordered coffee in Italy? Share your experiences below.