Italian coffee: the ultimate guide to drink coffee like an Italian in Italy
Italian coffee is not just a drink, it’s more a lifestyle, and has more than one cultural impact on how Italians are perceived abroad and how they live their life.
If you’re heading to Italy and you want to drink Italian coffee like a real Italian, this guide is for you.
Why coffee in Italy is so important
Coffee has been part of the Italian culture for a very long time: one of the first coffee shops opened in Venice in 1683 and soon became synonymous with comfortable atmosphere and conviviality. Up to these days, coffee is a strong part of Italian culture and it’s consumed many times during a single day: to start the day, to have a break, at meetings, and so on.
And you probably don’t know but it is also common, especially in the South of Italy, to invite people at home “per un caffè” (to have a coffee) which just means to hang out, have a chat and have fun.
Coffee in Italy is a real social aggregator and bars are the best places to make sure that, through coffee, relationships are established and consolidated.
So said, what do you have to know to order an Italian coffee in Italy? And which type of coffee can you actually order? Let me clarify for you, but first I wanna introduce you to something different: coffee at home.
There’s just one coffee in Italy: the famous Italian espresso, which is commonly called “caffè”, a strong shot of espresso.
Italian Coffee at home
A caffè can be made using a coffee machine and some coffee powder or using an Italian press, more specifically called “moka” which is basically a coffee maker that brews coffee by passing pressurized boiling water through ground coffee. The moka is usually used at home and the result is a creamy coffee, with an incredible smell, the one that makes you wake up happy.
If you want to try the real espresso with a Moka, an espresso maker, read my guide. If you want to try to make an espresso at home, I recommend you buy Bialetti, a bestseller in Italy for ages.
This is how a Bialetti Italian Moka looks like [Click on the image if you want to buy one!]
You can choose different sizes, these are the most used in Italy:
1 cup: Produces 1 demitasse (tazzina) of espresso (for 1 person, max 2 people if they don’t drink a lot)
3 cups: Produces 3 demitasse cups (tazzine) of espresso (2-4 people)
6 cups: Produces 6 demitasse cups (tazzine) cups of espresso (6-8 people).
You can also have your coffee made with an espresso machine, like the ones you can see in a bar, and lately, people are getting into the habit of using capsules to make their espresso at home: Nespresso is the first choice (read more here), but in reality there are a lot of companies producing coffee machines and capsules.
These are some of the most awesome coffee machines you can buy for your home: you need to buy coffee powder and follow the instructions so to have a perfect Italian espresso:
These are some of the most awesome coffee machines with capsules you can buy for your home: you need to buy capsules (originals or compatibles) and your Italian espresso will be ready in a few seconds:
What happens if you’ve been invited to drink a coffee at home by someone from Italy?
First of all, you accept and once you’re there, just follow what your host do: you can add sugar to your coffee, a bit of milk (cold or hot) and basically that’s it. Just enjoy the moment!
But if you’re in Italy, the bar (coffee shop) is definitely something you can’t miss!
How to order Italian coffee in Italy and which type of coffee you can order in Italy
If you’re in a bar and you want a coffee, you still need to order a caffè: it’s made using a coffee machine and the result is a proper Italian espresso, creamy and smooth.
A coffee is just an espresso, ’cause for every other beverage with a coffee base, we Italians use a different name:
- a macchiato is an espresso “marked” with a splash of frothy milk;
- a corretto is an espresso with some alcohol in it;
- a cappuccino is an espresso with warm frothy milk;
- a caffè e latte is just a glass of warm or cold milk with a little bit of coffee in it;
- a marocchino is an upside-down cappuccino, of a smaller size.
Americano only exists for tourists and it’s basically an espresso diluted with plenty of hot water, so as the lungo, an espresso diluted with just a tiny bit of hot water.
I bet you are but just remember: coffee means espresso and if you want something else you need to be specific. Remember also you don’t have to ask for a specific size of your caffè (or any other coffee-based drink) ’cause there’s usually just one size and there are never toppings added to a real Italian espresso. You can get a flavored espresso but this is actually one of the latest trends, not an expression of the Italian culture of coffee.
How to drink a coffee like an Italian?
Now that you know the basics about the types of coffee you can get in Italy, just one, so it’s time to learn how to drink your Italian coffee like a real Italian.
Lesson number one
Never order an espresso, or an expresso, always ask for a caffè and you’ll get what you’re looking for.
Lesson number 2
The majority of the Italians drink their coffee standing at the bar counter. This is not just part of the Italian culture but it’s also a great advice if you’re looking to save some bucks during your trip to Italy: if you seat at a table (and remember: you’re a tourist), your coffee could even cost you 50% more than drink it standing at the bar.
You always have to pay your coffee at the register and then order it at the bar by showing the receipt of your payment to the server. Do not forget you may have to scream to place your order: it’s normal and nobody will ever be shocked.
Lesson number 4
In the majority of the cases, your coffee will be served with a glass of water. The reason being is that you have to drink water to clean your mouth before coffee and fully enjoy it without compromising its taste, aroma, and fragrance from any food or drink previously ingested. So, remember: drink your water before your coffee, never after.
Tips to not look too touristy when asking for or drinking a coffee
- Don’t order a cappuccino after lunch (or during your lunch), unless you’re having it for lunch with a cornetto or a pastry;
- Never order an espresso, always order a coffee/caffè;
- Never expect a mug when you order your coffee as it’s served in a small cup (and even if the amount looks very little, trust me: an espresso can seriously wake up a bear!);
- Do not wait to be served but make everything in your control to get the attention you deserve and be served: make eye contact, raise your hands and eventually scream your order;
- Never ever ask for Starbucks-style froths, artificial flavors, artificial creamers: you are aware of the debate between Italians and Starbucks, are you?