Most people know that ordering coffee is not like ordering coffee in the US. Even in the age of Starbucks and other coffee houses, even with terms like “Americano,” “Macchiato,” and “Grande” tossed around, there is still a bit to learn when it comes to ordering coffee in Italy.
Coffee is a true cultural superstar in Italy. It is part of the gastronomy – every meal must end with an espresso (it is thought to aid in digestion)! It is part of the culture, “Ti offro un caffé” (“I’ll by you a coffee”) is almost like saying hello. It is part of work life, with several coffee breaks built into the average workday. It is, quite simply, part of the Italian way of life. It’s also used in some iconic recipe, such as for the fabulous dessert tiramisú!
Coffee culture in Italy is actually quite complex, dictating when you have what type of coffee drink, how and how much you pay, and even how polite you are! For instance, if you are in someone’s home and they offer you a coffee, you say yes. Period. Even if you don’t want it, you say “Sì, grazie!”
How to Order a Coffee in Italy
Ordering coffee in Italy could not be easier. Really all you have to do is go up to the barista and say “Un caffé” in a polite voice. It is literally that easy. In Italy “caffé” and “espresso” are synonymous, although if they peg you as a foreigner the barista might follow up by confirming “caffé espresso?” In Italy most caffes have a bar behind with the coffee machine stands and the barista works. This is perhaps why the word for “cafe” in Italian (meaning the coffee shop, not the drink itself) is “bar”!
If you order at the bar and pay at the bar, you should drink your coffee at the bar. To sit down costs extra, which is something that seems odd to many foreign travelers, but it’s an important rule to remember.
How you take your coffee is up to you – although most Italians will take it with a bit of sugar.
I never drink coffee at lunch. I find it keeps me awake for the afternoon.
– Ronald Reagan
Of course, there are many other types of coffee drinks in Italy. Some of the options you might discover while visiting Italy include:
cappuccino – a mixture of espresso and frothy steamed milk, sometimes sprinkled with cocoa powder
macchiato – literally “stained” with a spash of steamed milk. In addition to the classic caffé macchiato, a “latte macchiato” is a cup of hot milk “stained” with a splash of coffee.
caffé latte – much like a cappuccino, but with a great ratio of milk to coffee and less foam (note that if you just order a “latte” in Italy you’ll get a glass of milk!)
caffé lungo – a slightly larger (“longer”) coffee with a bit more water added
caffé ristretto – a slightly more condensed espresso with less water added
caffé corretto – “corrected” with a shot of liquor – usually grappa, but any liquor is possible!
caffé con panna – with cream, and by that I mean whipped cream that you stir into the coffee until it disolves
caffé americano – an approximation of American coffee with extra hot water added
in vetro – served in a short glass (similar to a shot glass) instead of in an espresso cup
caffé freddo – cold sweetened coffee, never served with ice
schiuma – the foam on a cappuccino
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.
– T. S. Eliot
4 Coffee Rules
1, Drink a cappuccino only in the morning, and only with a pastry (and not other food). You would never find an Italian ordering a cappuccino with or after a full meal. Never!
2. Don’t sit in a chair unless you’re willing to pay a surcharge.
3. If an Italian offers you a coffee, take it!
4. End a big meal with an espresso or a “caffe corretto” to help with your digestion.
We want to do a lot of stuff; we’re not in great shape. We didn’t get a good night’s sleep. We’re a little depressed. Coffee solves all these problems in one delightful little cup.
Remember, to Italians coffee is serious business! They even petitioned recently to have it declared a on of UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritages of Humanity!
At TIK we tend to take an Italian view of coffee. We only drink espresso in the office, and we have several coffee breaks a day (don’t worry – they are short!).
By Peg Kern
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