I thought about titling this post “the Beginner’s Guide To Coffee Culture In Italy”, because coffee is actually part of the culture in Italy. Standing at the bar in a coffee shop, knocking back an espresso (un caffe) is part of the social fabric in this very social country, and if you get the system and your order down, it adds to the magic of your experience in Italy.
The first thing to know is that coffee in Italy is nothing like Starbucks.
Drinks for the most part come in one size and are supposed to be consumed onsite. Stomping your foot and demanding a venti will get you exactly nowhere – venti means 20 in Italian. You will be served your drink in a real cup, not a paper cup. Italians don’t walk around eating and drinking in the streets like we do in the US. It’s fabulous.
The second thing to know is that there is a system that you need to follow.
When you walk into a café (coffee bar) check out the situation before walking up to the bar. I most big city places you will need to pay the cashier first. He will give you a receipt that you will take up to the bar to order with. In smaller coffee shops you can order and pay at the bar.
If you are going to eat something – a pastry, a biscotto, a sandwich for example you need to scope out whats behind the glass before you pay for your order. Have a look, decide what you want and then go tell it to the cashier. Normally everything in a given food category costs the same. Panini are equally priced, all the pastries are one price etc, but there can be variables, so it doesn’t hurt to check first.
Now with your receipt in hand, muscle up to the bar and get the barista’s attention. He or she will grab your receipt, ask you what you’re having, and then tear it so they know the order has been filled.
There are 2 prices for the coffee you are ordering. One is for having it standing at the bar and the other is for taking it to sit at a table. Italians drink their coffee standing at the bar.
It should be noted at this point that a coffee in Italy (un caffe ) is what we here in the states call a shot of espresso.
What To Order
There is no equivalent in Italy to American drip coffee. You also won’t find Coffeemate or flavored coffee creamers. Italian coffee ruins you – it is so incredibly good. After a break in Italy it is near impossible to go back to drinking Starbucks.
The way to ask for your order is to say “un caffe per favore”. In a busy joint you can get away with just saying the name of the drink you want, but you probably will have to get the barista’s attention.
Un Caffe / a coffee.
A coffee is a shot of espresso. It will be served to you in a little cup on a saucer with a teaspoon for sugar. Normally they will also give you a small glass of water on the side.
This is nothing like the huge sugary confection served stateside. It’s a shot of espresso stained (made macchiato) with a drop of milk. If you want the milk to be hot and foamed ask for Macchiato Caldo. This is still served in a little espresso cup.
Un Caffe Con Panna.
This is similar to a macchiato but is sweeter, and instead of milk is topped with a dollop of whipped cream.
Un Cappuccino (or Cappuccio).
This is served in a bigger cup, but still not as large as an American tall. A cappuccino is a shot of espresso with foamed milk. Italians only drink this at breakfast time til mid morning. They cringe at the thought of milk sitting on a full stomach. Being that you probably are not his first tourist your barista will happily make you cappuccinos all day long.
This is the closest thing you will get to an American drip coffee. Sort of. It’s a shot of espresso with hot water added. It will still be much stronger than coffee at home.
This drink is strictly for the tourists – no Italian would be caught dead drinking it.
Un Lungo/Caffe Lungo.
You can ask for a caffe lungo (long) for a slightly weaker version.
Un Corretto or Caffe Corretto.
This is “corrected” coffee, said coffee being corrected with a shot of liquor. This could be grappa, brandy, Sambuca, Cognac or I’m sure anything that you would prefer.
Granita Al Caffe
Granita is a cold coffee that comes out of a slushy style machine. Its very creamy and smooth and delicious.
Coffee In Naples
I personally think Italian coffee is the best coffee in the world. In all my travels around the globe I have never had better coffee, or coffee that I have loved better, anywhere.
Within Italy the best coffee I have ever had has been in Naples. I make sure to allow coffee time every time I pass through, even if its just a quick espresso at the train station. But beware – coffee in Naples is strong!
Italians pop into a bar (café/coffee shop) multiple times per day. It’s a fun habit to take part in! If espresso seems too strong to start with just load it up with sugar. You will get the swing of it and develop a taste for it in no time, and before you know it you’ll either be drinking it straight or with just a little sugar before you know it.
I bring home between 5 and 10 pounds of Italian coffee every time I go to Italy. I buy Lavazza Crema E Gusto or Illy You can order both here on Amazon, but they cost a bit more, although they’re still not expensive.