Italy, the home of coffee and the master of coffee culture. From bean to cup to lips, the Italians have their own way of preparing and drinking coffee, and it’s a tradition that’s highly respected.
So, learn the correct lingo and know how to order – here are a few basic tips you’ll need to follow to fit in with the locals.
Learn the lingo
We might think of a latte as a large mug of steamed milk with a dash of coffee, but go into any Italian coffee house and ask for a latte and you’ll simply be given a glass of milk. To make sure you get no surprises, here are the most common coffees you’ll find on a menu:
Latte macchiato – Translating literally as ‘stained milk’, this is the closest to a standard latte back home. Italians only drink this as a breakfast coffee.
Cappuccino – If all else fails, go for the familiar cappuccino – less milk and more froth, with a sprinkling of cocoa. However, you’d never see an Italian drinking one after noon and certainly not after a meal.
Americano – Black filtered coffee with hot water. You can also ask for ‘latte caldo’ or ‘latte freddo’ for hot milk or cold milk.
Caffé or caffé normale – You’ll fit right in ordering one of these. A strong shot of coffee served in a tiny cup. We’d know it as an espresso, but the term is rarely used in Italy. This is an on-the-go coffee for any busy Italian.
Caffé macchiato – Translates as ‘stained coffee’. This is similar to a caffé, but with a drop of hot milk to take the edge off. A great after-dinner pick-me-up.
Don’t rely on western customs
Many of the Italian-sounding traditions we’ve picked up usually come from the USA and would be considered sacrilege in Italy. Although you may think you know all the ins and outs from your regular coffee shop visits, asking for a ‘grande’ and ‘venti’ will only get you a strange look. Italians like short, quick coffees that aren’t filling as they’re often drunk on the go for a little energy boost. Asking for a frappé coffee or a skinny drink is a no-go, and while going decaf is often a way of avoiding the caffeine rush, in Italy it’s the equivalent of ordering a pizza with no toppings – it’s just not done.
Drink it like an Italian
If you really want to mingle with the locals, don’t take a seat. It’s common for Italians to pay for the coffee first, especially in busy places like train stations and airports, then drink standing at the counter. In some places, you can end up paying a little extra by sitting at a table.
Fancy something slightly stronger? Order a caffé corretto. ‘Corretto’ translates as correct, as in the correct way to drink coffee. Typically, this means adding a splash (or two) of grappa, sambuca or rum to your caffé. A sneaky dash of alcohol during the day? You’re on holiday after all.
Lastly, don’t be surprised if your coffee comes with a glass of cold water. This is supposed to be drunk before the coffee to cleanse the palate so you can enjoy the coffee’s rich flavours.