Coffee in Italy is a serious thing. First of all, there are various kinds of Italian coffee you can drink – either at home or at a “bar” (AKA, an Italian café). Secondly, there is a certain – though unspoken – etiquette to drinking coffee, which establishes what to drink when, how to order coffee, how to drink coffee, the amount of time and even space you take to drink your coffee, and so on.
Italians consume copious amounts of coffee. To us, coffee is as much a pick me up as it is a social thing. There is nothing better than meeting friends for coffee – especially when the weather is nice and you can sit outside, with great views.
Now, before you panic, I have decided to come to your help so that you can go to Italy well prepared. Being the coffee addict that I am, I though I’d put together a post about the various kinds of Italian coffee and give you some tips on how to order coffee in Italy.
Let me start by giving you some pointers on the various kinds of coffee you can expect to taste.
Coffee In Italy: 15 Different Kinds Of Italian Coffee
Caffé literally means coffee. It is the generic word we use to refer to coffee when it comes plain, with no milk. If you are at home, chances are that your coffee will be made with a “moka” – the Italian coffee pot. If you go to a bar café and ask for a coffee, you will most likely get an espresso.
Espresso is the most famous kind of Italian coffee. If you go to a café and order “un caffé,” you will get an espresso. Come to think of it, we normally just say caffè to refer to espresso and I don’t think I have ever heard anybody specifically order an espresso.
GOOD TO KNOW: There is no such thing as a double espresso in Italy. If you want a longer shot, just order a “caffé lungo.” You will probably get a dirty look by your barista – I know it very well because that is how I like my coffee.
If you want your espresso with a drop of milk, make sure to order a caffé macchiato (pronounced mah-kyah-toh). You can opt for macchiato caldo, in which case you get a drop of hot frothy milk; or macchiato freddo, which gets you a drop of cold milk.
Caffé al vetro
There really is no difference between a regular espresso and a caffé al vetro, other than the kind of cup it is served in. Vetro in Italian means glass, so this kind of coffee will be served in a small glass cup.
I bet you will love this coffee. It is a shot of espresso, spiked with your choice of liquor – it usually is either grappa or sambuca.
Decaffeinato literally means decaf – you can pair the word with cappuccino, macchiato, etc. But if you just say “un decaffeinato” you will get an espresso in its caffeine free version.
One of the strongest Italian coffee is ristretto, which is like a super short espresso.
INTERESTING FACT: Contrary to common misconception, ristretto or espresso don’t have more caffeine than other kinds of coffee. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Caffeine dissolves in water, so the more you leave a coffee to brew, the more caffeine you get. If you really do need a good wake up, opt for a French Press where you leave the coffee to infuse for 4 minutes.
Together with espresso, this is the most famous coffee in Italy and what many Italians will have for breakfast, together with cornetto (this post explains a lot about Italian cornetto e cappuccino breakfast). It’s made espresso, steamed whole milk and milk froth. Cappuccino in Italy only comes in one size – unless you are at an airport, where you can order a pint of it if you care. The foam is just enough to get to the brim of the cup. Anything more than that, and it would spill – which we’d hate.
It is traditionally made with whole milk – so there is no such thing as a skinny cappuccino here.
GOOD TO KNOW: In recent years, it’s become more common to find lactose free milk or soya milk at bars in Italy, so even vegans or lactose intolerant people like myself can enjoy this delicious Italian coffee.
FUN FACT: I love my soya milk cappuccino piping hot. Baristas think I love making a fuss.
This is one of the best coffee in Italy, a heavenly invention. A Marocchino (pronounced mah-row-keen-oh) would be the equivalent of a mocha, but in a much smaller cup, and usually glass. It is made with espresso, steamed milk and cocoa powder, with an added sprinkle of cocoa powder on the foam. No such thing as whipped cream will ever go in a marocchino. So don’t ever dare asking for it – unless you want to be laughed at.
Also called caffé latte, this is another popular drink in Italy, and the most common breakfast drink. If you make it at home, it literally is a combination of hot milk with coffee. For a real Italian homemade breakfast, dunk your breakfast cookies in it.
If you order caffellatte at a bar, you will get a large glass of steamed milk with some froth on top, and an added espresso shot. The main difference between a cappuccino and a caffellatte is the proportion of the ingredients (caffellatte has way more milk) and the size (caffellatte is much larger).
GOOD TO KNOW: Latte in Italian means milk. If you order a latte at a bar in Italy, you will get a glass of milk, either hot or cold.
Steamed frothy milk served in a glass with literally a drop of espresso.
Don’t order an Americano coffee in Italy thinking you will get a typical American style drip coffee, because you will get enormously disappointed. Our Americano is a shot of espresso in a large (usually a cappuccino) cup which is served with a small pot of hot water on the side, which you can add to taste. Honestly, it is an insult to Italian coffee. And, if I may add, to American coffee too.
Caffé shakerato or freddo
One of the best ways to enjoy Italian coffee in the summer is to have it cold (freddo). A good caffé shakerato or freddo is prepared by pouring cold espresso over ice cubes in a shaker, and giving it a good shake until it becomes frothy. The only thing better than that on a hot summer day is a cold beer, but a shakerato is definitely more acceptable, especially before lunch time.
Caffé al ginseng
I fail to see what’s good about ginseng coffee, but it is one of the most up and coming coffee in Italy so I ought to mention it. It is espresso prepared with ginseng extract and a good dose of cream, so it ends up being very milky and truly sweet.
Roasted barley apparently has a very similar flavor to coffee, so if you want something mild that is 100% caffeine free you should opt for a caffé d’orzo (ohr-zow) instead. Italian mothers give it to children as they grow up, to get them accustomed to the flavor of coffee.
How To Order Coffee In Italy
Now that we are all clear on the Italian coffee department, let me give you some pointers on the etiquette that surrounds coffee in Italy.
What to drink when
This is the biggest question of all, because if you order the wrong kind of Italian coffee at the wrong time, you will get the dirtiest look by the waiter, you will be recognized as a tourist on the spot by any local walking by, and end up feeling like a fool.
The main rule here is one: cappuccino is strictly a breakfast drink. Having it up until 11:00 am is perfectly fine. Drink it in the afternoon and people will think you are weird. Order cappuccino after lunch, and you’ll be frowned at. Order it with a meal, and most likely the waiter will pretend he didn’t understand and – if you insist – he’ll tell you that you are making a big mistake. Italians think drinking anything milky with or after a big meal is gross, and it doesn’t help digestion.
If you don’t like straight espresso, which is what we’d have after lunch here in Italy, go for a macchiato. That is perfectly acceptable, though not as common.
Don’t expect to see a menu
So you walk to your Italian bar, but have no idea about coffee in Italy and don’t know what to get. You hope to see a menu, much like in a Starbucks or Costa. Tough luck you guys! You won’t ever find a menu at a proper Italian bar. So, memorize your favorite Italian coffee from the list above and be prepared to place your order.
The average cost of a coffee in Italy is €1 euro for an espresso and €1,30 for a cappuccino. Prices vary slightly between north and south, large city vs. village and even within a city, depending on the location.
Pay for your coffee first
Unless you are having your coffee at the table, in which case a waiter or waitress will come to take your order, you often need to pay before you actually order your coffee.
This seems easier said than done. I mean, all you need to do is staying in a line, right? And surely you know how to stand in line, right?
Sorry to break the news, but there are lines, and there are Italian lines. It honestly got much much better in the past couple of decades and now even Italians are able to form some sort of a line, but chances are that if you are on the short side and / or a woman (like yours truly) people will try to pass in front of you, pretending they didn’t see you, or that they didn’t understand you were in line.
So, you really have to stand your ground, you have to watch intently in front of you, with purpose, and at the same time look around to make sure that nobody arrives to pass in front of you. And if they do, you have to be prepared to let them know that you are in line indeed.
Once you pay for your coffee, you will be give a paper slip – we call it “scontrino.” This is literally proof of payment. Hold on to that and go to the counter with it, and make yourself very visible to the barista to whom you will have to place your order again.
Counter or table service?
First of all, you need to know that drinking coffee in Italy is slightly more expensive if you seat down.
Most Italians drink coffee at the counter in the morning because they are in a rush to get to work, and an espresso is literally only two sips and it will take you about a minute to drink.
I honestly always prefer sitting down – first of all, because I drink caffé lungo so it takes me longer to finish it and secondly because to me coffee means relaxing, and I hate the feeling of being in a rush. Besides, I am so short that most of the time taller men or women will try to push me away to get in front of the line and get their coffee before I do.
My dad would be the opposite though: he drinks his coffee standing, and elbows in as if he was in a crowded place, even when he’s at home. Go figure!
So, whether you drink you coffee sitting or standing is totally up to you and you shouldn’t feel less glamorous one way or the other.
To sugar or not to sugar
You normally find tiny sugar bags either at the counter or at the table. You’ll have a choice between white sugar, brown sugar and sweetener.
Whether you want to ruin your Italian coffee with sugar or not is totally up to you.
OK OK, I AM KIDDING! I am not a fan of sugar in coffee so I will take it bitter, but most Italians actually put sugar in their coffee so feel free to add as much as you want.
Tipping for coffee
Tipping is not really a thing in Italy – at most, we round the bill up and leave the change. We definitely do not tip for coffee. And you should not either.
Coffee-to-go, take away coffee or whatever you want to call it: it just does not exist in Italy. If you want a coffee, you have to drink it at the bar (or at home, obviously).
Making Italian Coffee At Home
If you enjoyed your coffee in Italy so much that you want to make it at home, you will need the following items:
- A good espresso machine like this one. There are many on sale for various prices, but the cheap ones tend to break easily. Keep in mind that the best coffee comes from machines that have been used for a while, so keep going for best results.
- Alternatively, if you like the idea of having home-made Italian coffee, get a good Bialetti Moka like this one. Keep in mind they come in different sizes.
- Good ground coffee or coffee beans, if you have a coffee grinder. Illy is the best coffee in Italy and you can easily buy it online here.
- A set of espresso coffee cups. The best ones have truly thick ceramic, so that they hold the heat of the coffee for longer. You may opt for these ones.
Further readings about Italy
If you are planning a trip to Italy, make sure to read the following posts:
- What To Do And What To Avoid When Planning A Trip To Italy
- 67 Extremely Useful Travel Tips For Italy
- The 19 Best Movies About Italy You Need To Watch
- 17 Reasons To Visit Italy As Soon As Possible
- 30 Unmissable, Fun And Cheap Things To Do In Rome
- A Wonderful Itinerary For 5 Days In Rome
- A Local’s Guide To The Things To Do In Sardinia
- An Excellent Guide To The Best Beaches In Sardinia
- 5 Excellent Reasons To Go On A Day Trip From Florence To Cinque Terre
- 13 Fantastic Day Trips From Milan
- Seventeen Incredible Things To Do In Venice
- Ten Reasons To Visit Trentino In The Summer
- A Fantastic 8 Days Sicily Itinerary
- A Great Guide To The Things To Do In Catania, Italy