“When life gives you lemons, trade them for coffee.”
Italian coffee culture is unlike any other in the world. These passionate coffee lovers have developed a number of unique, unwritten rules and rituals on how they enjoy this famous beverage. Check out these 10 Italian coffee drinking rules – you’ll be ready to enjoy your favorite coffee in no time!
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1. DON’T order Cappuccino, Caffè Latte or Latte Macchiato (milky coffees) after 11 am. However, DO drink them with the breakfast pastry.
The first rule of drinking coffee in Italy is to never drink a milky coffee after breakfast. A traditional breakfast in Italy consists of a Cappuccino or Caffè Latte with bread rolls, hard bread called ‘fette biscottate’ and cookies. In cafes, you’re most likely to find people having a Cappuccino or a Caffè with a cornetto (similar to a croissant) or a pastry.
Italians in general aren’t great fans of milk. They believe that milk is a beverage that is too heavy on the stomach and isn’t ideal for anything other than breakfast. In fact, if you were to speak to any true-blue Italian, you’ll hear them say that milk is only fit for a baby bottle. 🙂
So, if you find yourself placing an order for a Cappuccino, make sure you do so only in the morning. Avoid drinking milky coffee in the afternoon or in the evenings and never drink them after lunch or dinner.
2. Know your lingo: Caffè means Espresso. If you want Espresso, DO order a Caffè. DON’T order a Latte; you’ll get a glass of milk.
Back home you’ll be used to ordering an Espresso, which (to you) translates to “coffee sans the milk”. But, in Italy, the word Espresso isn’t representative of a coffee.
Lexically speaking, the word “Espresso” refers to the machine which makes the coffee and not to the coffee itself. Over time, the term was adopted to become synonymous with coffee. If you were to ask your Italian barista for a cup of coffee, you need to ask them for a Caffè – a shot of pure coffee.
Similarly, you may consider ordering the beloved Latte. At your local Starbucks, you’re most likely to get a cup of slightly milky coffee. In Italy, you’ll just get a glass of cold milk. In Italian, the word “Latte” literally means “milk”. Ask for a latte and be sorely disappointed by what you get. It’s best to spruce up on your Italian before heading out to an Italian café.
3. If you want a double shot of caffeine in your Espresso DO order Caffè Doppio, or… (see Rule no. 4)
Remember the time when you ordered two caffés (or espressos) to quench your coffee craving? There’s a better way to get your daily dose of coffee. Introducing Caffè Doppio – a double shot of pure dark roasted coffee.
It is extracted using double coffee filters, resulting in 60ml of dark, unadulterated coffee. Such a double shot of espresso means a stronger and more flavorful coffee. So go ahead and enjoy your double espresso heaven!
4. … DO as the Italians do and visit a bar 6 – 7 times a day for a repeated Caffè heaven.
As an alternative to Caffé Doppio, and considering that espressos only give them a tiny shot of caffeine each time they drink it, Italians frequent cafes and coffee bars multiple times, sometimes 6-7 times a day.
An important thing to remember is that coffee breaks are a socializing ritual in Italy. This is the time when locals get together, discuss important affairs and exchange gossip. Visiting cafes multiple times over the course of the day serves as a way to get a good cup of coffee while staying abreast of the latest developments.
Additionally, there are certain types of coffee served during specific times of the day. By visiting cafes often, locals can savor a range of delightful flavors.
If you’re ever in Italy, do what the Italians do and visit your preferred café often.
5. Size DOES matter. There‘s no “Grande” or “Tall”, only one size per type of coffee.
Italian cafés don’t offer coffees in multiple sizes. There is a standard size for each type of coffee. When ordering, just ask for your preferred variety of coffee and let the barista take care of the quantity.
In the US, most cafés and coffee houses offer customers a range of cup sizes. From Tall to Venti, you’ll find varying quantities being served. It stands to reason that you’ve become accustomed to having a preferred quantity that you’d like to consume.
When ordering in Italy, instead of asking for a Tall, a Grande or a Venti, ask for different types of coffee. For example, if you ask for a tall espresso, the barista might give you a funny look. Check out the Rule no. 10 and get to know different coffee sizes you can choose from in Italy.
6. At a bar, DO drink your Caffè as Italians do – standing al banco (at the bar).
One thing you need to remember about Italian cafés – you need to pay to sit. Unlike at cafés around the world, Italians aren’t used to sitting in a café for hours discussing the latest scandal of the day.
They prefer to drink their coffee “al banco” or at the bar, in front of the barista. As a result, cafés in Italy follow a common practice. They charge a premium for anyone who wishes to be seated on one of the tiny tables outside the café.
Drinking coffee is considered a social game in Italy and when you stand at the bar, you get to meet and interact with the locals. In fact, native Italians love it when tourists stop acting like tourists and start acting like locals instead. So, when it Italy, ape your fellow coffee-drinkers and drink al banco.
Therefore, if you want to avoid looking like a tourist, remember that at the bar the ritual goes:
Pay First -> Order From The Barista -> Pour Sugar If Preferred -> Three Sips Of Caffè -> Quick Gossip With The Barista -> Leave.
7. DON’T be afraid to shout and repeat your order to barista, especially in busy bars.
Be it morning, noon or night, you’ll always find cafés in Italy teeming with people. In fact, a favorite pastime for the locals is to head out to a preferred café post-work and have a cup of their favorite coffee. As a result, the crowd and the noise around the barista is something you should get used to.
When it comes to placing the order for your coffee, don’t hesitate to be loud. Being aggressive may not have many benefits elsewhere, but in a crowded Italian café, it is sure to get you your cup of coffee quickly.
8. DO expect to pay double (or even triple) if you drink seated at the table and not standing al banco.
In Italy, the action is where the barista is and locals don’t even consider drinking their caffè elsewhere. Standing al banco is how Italians usually have their coffee. As tourists, it’s advisable for you to follow this rule too. Why? Prices.
In quite a few Italian cafès you’ll find a single employee who functions as the cashier, barista and server. If seated at a table, your barista will spend more time and effort getting you your cup of coffee.
Additionally, space constraints plague Italy’s tourist-friendly places. Many times, tourists who sit at tables (a premium space) eat up much revenue by not vacating the café after finishing their coffee.
A lot of business is lost in the process. Considering this, it makes pure, economic sense to Italians to charge their patrons extra for serving coffee at the table.
9. DON’T order take-away coffee, no such thing exist in Italy. Take a 2-minute coffee break (pausa) instead.
Try ordering a coffee “to-go” in Italy and watch your barista cringe in despair. There is no such thing as a “take-away” coffee in Italy.
First, unlike other countries, coffees in Italy come in standard, smaller sizes. Italians don’t see the point of carrying such small quantities on-the-go. Also, Italy is a busy country and is crowded in most places. Imagine sipping your tiny cup of caffé while dodging fellow pedestrians and Vespas. Not very enjoyable, right?
Second, coffee is best drunk when hot and freshly brewed – a belief that Italians live by. Locals in Italy don’t see the appeal in stale coffee that’s packaged in little plastic cups.
However, this said, cafes in railway stations sometimes do offer take-away coffee. But again, drinking coffee on-the-go isn’t a common sight in Italy.
10. DO know your coffee:
When in Rome, do as the Romans do and when in Italy, know your coffee. To help you order the right coffee (and avoid any embarrassments), here is a guide to Italian coffees:
- Caffè, standard Espresso – A dark roasted black coffee, that is packed in a portafilter and extracted in concentrated amounts by adding hot water.
- Cappuccino, Espresso with steamed and foamed milk – A caffè or espresso, with equal parts of steamed milk and foamed milk. It is a perfect accompaniment for breakfast.
- Macchiato, Espresso with a few drops of hot milk – A diluted version of an espresso that contains a few drops of steamed milk. It is the ideal drink for those who don’t like the bitter caffe.
- Caffè Ristretto, with less water than standard Caffè – An espresso made using the normal amount of coffee powder, but with just half the amount of water. The perfect shot for a quick caffeine fix.
- Caffè Americano, Caffè with extra hot water – An espresso with extra hot water, added to give it a flavor that is different from traditional espresso and drip coffee. It is lighter in taste compared to a caffè.
- Caffè Lungo, with double the water of Caffè – An Italian-style coffee which has double the quantity of water.
- Caffè Corretto, “corrected” with a drop of liquor (cognac, grappa or sambuca), after dinner – A shot of espresso mixed with a shot of liquor, usually drunk in the evenings or after supper. It contains grappa, Sambuca, brandy or cognac.
Check out the super quick method: 🙂
- Caffè Decaffeinato, decaffeinated coffee – A decaffeinated coffee, that is stripped of much caffeine content. A healthy drink, that doesn’t have the side-effects of caffeinated coffee.
- Caffè Shakerato, iced coffee served in martini glass during summer – A coffee which is made of a shot of espresso mixed with ice cubes. The ice is used to cool the hot caffè and retain the strong flavor.
- Crema Di Caffè, ice cream and coffee make love, order in summer only – A shot of espresso mixed with a scoop of delicious Italian ice cream, it is the ideal drink during hot summers.
- Caffè Freddo or Cappuccino Freddo, extra sweet iced Caffè or Cappuccino – A cold version of a cappuccino; it consists of a shot of espresso with equal parts milk, foam and ice cubes.
- Caffè Marocchino (Espressino in the south of Italy), an Espresso, cocoa, foamy milk heaven – A coffee that is made of equal parts of espresso, milk and cocoa powder. In some parts of Italy, thick cocoa is added to the mix.
Drinking coffee in Italy is an art. It takes a lot of knowledge and a lot of finesse to order and drink coffee the right way.
However, once mastered, this art will allow you to experience the best of what this land of coffee has to offer.