How to Drink Coffee… Like An Italian

September 27, 2012

What could be better than enjoying a coffee… in Italy? Knowing what to order, and how (and when) to drink coffee like an Italian!

That’s because Italian coffee isn’t like coffee in the United States or anywhere else. Even the names don’t mean what you might expect. Take a story we heard from one traveler to Italy. Since she was familiar with the “Italian” lingo of coffee from Starbucks, she thought she was all set when she arrived in Italy and, proudly, ordered a “latte.” The server looked at her funny. “Latte? Caldo o freddo?” (Hot or cold?). She spoke a little Italian, so it was her turn to look at him funny: “Caldo, of course!” she said.

He disappeared for a moment, came back, and handed her a cup of exactly what she’d asked for—hot milk.

Don’t want that to be you? Then it’s worth knowing a little bit about coffee in Italy! Here are some starting tips.

A “bar” is really a “cafe”

The number of places labeled “bar” in your average Italian city would make you think all Italians have a drinking problem. They do: a coffee drinking problem! That’s because a “bar” is actually what we would call a “cafe.” (And, confusingly, a caffè actually means a “coffee”… but more on that later).

Most Italians drink coffee standing at the bar

This was a tip from our post on how not to get ripped off eating in Italy: Unless you really need to rest those feet, make like an Italian and order, and drink, your coffee at the bar. It’s often half or a third the price of sitting at a table, especially near a tourist site. And it’s where all the locals hang out!

How not to get taken advantage of at an Italian cafe: stand

At the bar, you usually have to pay for your coffee before ordering it

Not every cafe actually enforces this rule. But as a rule of thumb, it’s better to go to the cash register first and say what you’re going to get—”due caffè,” “un cornetto,” etc.—and pay first. Take the receipt you’re given and don’t throw it out; that’s what you bring to the bar with you, and hand to the server, to get served. (There’s more on this in our post on how to order a coffee, gelato, and slice of pizza in Italy!).

Don’t order a cappuccino after noon…

…if you want to “fit in” in Italy, that is. Especially at local cafes that aren’t used to tourists, you might just get a very funny look! Italians have a thing about drinking cappuccino after noon. It’s just not done (some say it’s because the milk and foam makes it a replacement for a meal, and all that dairy upsets the digestion). And you’ll never see an Italian ordering a cappuccino after dinner.

Know what coffee is what

Obviously, a latte in an American or British Starbucks isn’t the same as a latte in Italy. (Since the word is Italian and does mean “milk,” of course, Italians might have the edge on saying that the Starbucks version is plain old wrong).

Instead, here are the most popular Italian coffee phrases you should know:

  •  Caffè: This literally means “coffee,” but folks—in Italy, it’s an espresso! You don’t have to say “espresso” when you order (although if they know you’re a tourist, they might ask just to make sure). Just two days ago, we saw a family react with shock when the “caffè” they ordered came—as espresso, rather than filtered coffee. Oops!
  • Cappuccino: Espresso topped up with hot, foamed milk. It’s named after the Cappuccini, or Capuchin monks, because of the color of their hoods.
  • Caffè macchiato: This means a “spotted” or “stained” coffee, and in this case, it’s spotted  with a splash of hot milk.
  • Latte macchiato: Guess what this means? “Spotted milk”—in this case, a lot of milk with a spot of coffee.
  • Caffè americano: American-style filter coffee doesn’t exist here. Instead, if you order an “American coffee,” you’ll get Italy’s best approximate: espresso with hot water added.
  • Caffè lungo: A “long” coffee, i.e. with more water. It’s different than an americano because the difference actually happens at the espresso machine: when the espresso is actually being pulled, the process is slowed down so there’s twice as much water involved.

Help yourself to the cremina

Except for icy, summery drinks like caffè shakerato (coffee “shaken up” with ice and sugar), coffee doesn’t usually come with any sugar in it. Instead, it’s up to you to add sugar, usually found in either jars or packets there on the counter. Some places also will have tubs of cremina, which is foam whipped with sugar. If you want (and aren’t grossed out by the communal tub), you can spoon some right into your coffee to give it a sweet little kick.

And… enjoy!

You’re experiencing coffee in Italy… like an Italian! It’s one of the best, most authentic food experiences you can have. Not to mention one of the cheapest: across the country, a caffè taken at the bar costs about 80 (euro) cents. So drink up, and enjoy!

Read more: Not as Simple as it Seems: How to Order a Coffee, Gelato and Pizza in Italy

Italians love their espressos and cappuccionos. Find out how to drink coffee like an Italian.
Italians love their espressos and cappuccionos. Find out how to drink coffee like an Italian.

by Walks of Italy

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Show Comments

25 responses to “How to Drink Coffee… Like An Italian”

  1. They say Italian coffee is one of a kind and is really good. If it is, I’m gonna try this out.

  2. Ambradambra says:

    Great post – and really useful for travellers. My latest post on ‘The Good the Bad and the Italian’ is about this too, and how here in Australia people are drinking coffee out of disposable paper cups.

  3. An Italian in London says:

    I was looking for an Internet page on Italian coffee to address my British colleagues who keep asking me, and this one is a fair summary of our local habits on this topic.

    However, I think you should add at least the following important variants to the list:
    – Caffé ristretto (the opposite of “lungo”)
    – Caffé corretto (an espresso with some little brandy or grappa or sambuca, very popular especially to close meals…)
    – Caffé decaffeinato (or hag, or deca is just decaffeinated)
    – Caffé d’orzo (espresso made with barley rather than coffee, is increasingly popular)


  4. It is great that I saw this blog about different coffe …. I want more coffee that is made up of cappuccino. It make my day perfect with a big smile with it. Italian is the best coffee maker …. It is one of the Best.

  5. Lisa says:

    I just thought I should mention that a friend of mine, who is Italian says that she loves a cappucino so much that she drinks it whenever she wants, sometimes even right before bed but she admits that she is in the minority.

  6. Lisa says:

    Btw, isn’t it possible though to order a “caffe latte” in Italy? A long time ago I had bought a shirt in Italy (I somehow lost it unfortunately) that featured all the different types of Italian coffee and I believe that there was a “caffe latte” on it as well as something called a “caffe lunga” and “caffee stretta” but I don’t remember what all of them were.

  7. Alex says:

    Where can I get a coffee for 80 cents? I’ve been drinking it in Venice, Verona, mestre and Florence and have paid anything from €1.50 to €4.50. Am I begin ripped off or does your website need updating?

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Alex,

      A cappuccino is likely to cost a bit more, usually around 1.50 euro. A normal espresso should cost around 1 euro everywhere, though it is likely that in the historical center of famous cities such as Venice and Florence, you might be charged a bit more. Of course, this price only applies if you stand up at the bar, if you sit down at a table you will be charged more. We’re sorry if you’ve found the information inaccurate, but from our team and our extensive travels, we’ve come to expect a espresso to cost around 1 euro. Let us know what you find out!

    • Nancy says:

      We just returned from 3 weeks in Rome and espresso everywhere was 80 cents to 1€. My husband likes caffe lattes and they were usually 1.30€. I think St Eustatchia (sp) was a little more. Personally, we were really happy with the food and drink prices in grocery stores and restaurants, compared to the the US.

    • Andrea Altana says:

      You pay so much a coffee only drinking at the table (not standing at the bar) in some special places, like famous monumental locations, usually crowded of tourists. In “normal” places a coffee is about 1Euro in northern Italy and 0,80 cent in southern Italy. Anyway you’ll find a price list exposed to the public in any italian bar because it’s mandatory by the law.Pay attention to the voice “coperto”, is an extra you pay for the service at the table, usually in some luxury bar in main historical squares.

  8. Emma says:

    I am planning my vacation to Italy on 26th April to 5th May. I planned my program as follows: MILAN 3 nights, take train to Venice 2 nights, take train to Florence 4nights, train to Rome 4nights, fly to Sardinia 5 nights. This will be first hand experience and I NEED guidance as to where to stay. I also need to be closely located to public transport. Should I pack summer clothing or mid season. Sardinia will be my relaxation, need to be on the sea and close to beaches. Sorry for long comments, I am a bit nervous as I will be travelling alone. Oh, I love walking and discovering nature.

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Emma, Unfortunately we cannot choose your accommodation for you, but we’re sure with some research (try you’ll have a great trip and we hope to see you on some of our Florence or Rome tours!

  9. Nancy says:

    My husband and I just got back from 3 weeks in Rome and I have to tell you I was DYING to sit down with a big cup of coffee and cream when I got home. Slamming an espresso, which at some bars was wonderful, just isn’t the same.
    Take away American coffee is terrible, no wonder they think we drink dirty water.
    A waiter asked us after dinner if we would like a cappuccino (maybe he was laughing at us when he said it) but I almost kissed him. Yes yes yes, I do! We all have our customs, why can’t we just get along?
    Also, when I asked for caffe macchiato, they were frequently confused and asked if I was sure I wanted espresso in that? Perhaps it was my southern accent but that happened often. What else would you put in it?
    However, the 1.5 liters of frizzy water for 50 cents is almost worth moving there.

  10. Molly Choudhury says:

    I thnk its too nice to eat.i have no idea about it.may be nice

  11. Tony Nguyen says:

    It is great that I saw this blog about different coffe

  12. Alisa says:

    I was thinking i that i am a coffee lover but after reading this article i am felling that i am a child about coffee. i am simply impressed to know such about Italian Coffee variation. I wish i could drink them all in next few days.

  13. Thomas says:

    Great post – and really useful for me, thanks 🙂

  14. Rita says:

    I love coffee, when my doctor asks me how much I drink, I always said half of the real number I am planning to get a new coffee machine and I found this one called Orca Does anyone know it? They sell italian coffee, which is veryyyyyy interesting. I almost decided for this one but I am lookinf for second opinions. Thanks

  15. Thanks for your time and sharing this great post. I am a coffee lover and was surprised to know about the italian coffee variations. I am gonna try all of them in next few days.

  16. Kim Stone says:

    Quite a helpful post for me as I’m shortly planning to visit Italy. Also, I’m a coffee lover and cannot skip my evening coffee at any cost.

  17. Jack says:

    Thanks for the tips, really great!

  18. Laila Strain says:

    What a wonderful blog! We will be in Italy (Rome-Milan-Venice-Florence) in late summer. We’ll be staying in rental apartments and I wonder what coffee brands are most popular. We use Lavazza coffee at home all the time, and have bought Iily as well. Are they common brands in Italy?

    • Walks of Italy says:

      Hi Laila,

      Yes, Lavazza and Illy coffee are two of the most popular brands in Italy – you’ll find them in most bars!

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