How To Order Coffee In Italy
I remember the first time we walked into a bar to order coffee in Italy. I was like a deer in headlights, not knowing what to do and how to do it. Even if you are not comfortable ordering in Italian, knowing a handful of tips on how to order coffee in Italy can help. After 20 years of traveling to Italy, we drank a lot of coffee to put together this guide to Italian coffee menus.
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What You Will See On An Italian Coffee Menu
At many coffee bars in Italy, there often is no actual menu placed on the table, bar, or on the wall in the back. Most Italians just sort of know what they serve at a coffee shop in Italy. That’s why I wanted to put together this list of coffee names to help you when traveling to Italy.
Even without an actual menu, there are always prices listed somewhere. Sometimes it is on a single sheet of white paper hung on the wall. There are often two prices. The lower price will be for standing at the bar. The higher price will be for sitting at a table, either in the bar or outside.
Italian Coffee “Rules”
Most Italians drink their coffee at a bar or a cafeteria. Although more recently there are boutique Italian coffee houses popping up that are more like cafes found elsewhere, the bar is where Italians drink coffee.
There are other differences between visiting an Italian espresso bar versus visiting the local Starbucks back home. There is generally not a line at the register. Instead, just walk up and find a space at the bar. The server will generally get to you. Eventually. When the coffee arrives, you usually get a receipt for the cost. You can pay immediately, or if standing at the bar, it’s okay to pay after you finish.
The biggest rule is that even if you speak perfect Italian, if you try to order coffee in Italy like you do at your local Starbucks you probably will be met with a blank stare. This is not the time order a venti double hot, half foam, soy, decaf, blah blah blah.
The most popular coffee in Italy is probably the coffee that’s been served for generations. Italians drink coffee a certain way at certain times at certain places. For example, it’s okay to have a morning cappuccino, but not one after dinner. And, coffee in Italy is rarely served to go.
There is probably no other coffee word that exudes Italy like a cappuccino. It is probably one of the Italian coffee names most used by coffee drinkers around the world. At its most basic, a cappuccino is equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foam.
One of the things many people don’t know about ordering coffee in Italy, though, is that the Italians think there is a time and a place for everything food and drink related. To Italians, a cappuccino is a heavy drink, with all of the foam and drink. In fact, many think of a cappuccino as a meal in itself. This is why it is only order first thing in the morning.
This means, to live like a local in Italy, don’t order a cappuccino after around 11 am. Of course, this is really just custom and you won’t be refused service. For us, though, we try to stick with the norm and order this coffee in Italy only in the morning.
Coffee In Italy Pro Tip
Travelers who are more used to speaking Spanish than Italian often make an error when ordering in Italian. Whereas in Spanish a plural is made by adding an “s” sound at the end of the sentence, that is just not the case in Italy. In Italy, a word that ends in O will become an I when it is plural. When order two cups of cappuccino in Italy, don’t order two “cappucicnos.” Ask for “due cappuccini” instead!
For people who are used to grabbing a latte at their local Starbucks, this is another of the Italian coffee types that requires a bit of an explanation.
The word latte in Italian translates to milk. If you just head into a bar and ask for a latte you will receive a hot or warm cup of milk. I am not kidding, this has happened to us. In more touristy areas, the bartender might correct you, but elsewhere maybe not. There is nothing more disappointing than wanting a coffee and receiving milk instead.
So, how do you order this coffee in Italy? This is called a caffè latte in Italian. It is made of ⅓ espresso and ⅔ warmed milk, with just a bit of foam on the top. It is less foamy than a cappuccino. Similar to a cappuccino, this traditional Italian coffee is normally served in the morning.
Caffè In Italian
The king of Italian style coffee has to be a caffè, which is what many Americans would call a shot of espresso. When ordering at an Italian coffee bar don’t order an espresso, but ask for un caffè instead (or due caffè for two, don’t add an “s” on the end). Sometimes this will be called a caffè normale, but caffè is certainly sufficient.
Unlike the world of heavily milked drinks, like a cappuccino or a latte, you can order a caffè any time of day, particularly after a meal. This is true for both lunch and dinner.
When visiting a casual coffee bar, it’s also very common to order a caffè at the bar and to drink it quickly at the bar. Some bars will actually charge you more for sitting at a table, and even more for sitting outside.
It is possible to order a double, which would be called a doppio. But, it is more likely that Italians would just order a second round, or stop for another at a different bar in about an hour.
Now this is one of the best Italian coffee drinks in my mind and it is the coffee in Italy we drink most often. A macchiato is like a mix of an Italian espresso and cappuccino. It is like a miniature cappuccino, made with a shot of espresso and just a few drops of hot milk. Sometimes there is just a little bit of froth on the top as well.
The reason why I think this is the best coffee in Italy is because the milk cuts down on the bitterness of the coffee. But it doesn’t fill the belly as much as a cappuccino or caffe latte.
We will order this before lunch, after lunch, and in the afternoon. We don’t generally order a coffee after dinner, which is too late for us to take in caffeine. And, much like cappuccino, if you want two order “due macchiati.”
Other Types Of Coffee In Italy
There are other coffee styles in Italy, but we don’t generally order these. Purely out of preference. We all have the coffee style we prefer, right? Here are a few other drinks you may find on an Italian coffee menu.
Caffè Americano: This is probably most similar to what a coffee is in the US, at least because it is a full-sized coffee. In the end, it is just a shot of espresso mixed with hot water. Eric always wonders why a weak, watered down coffee is called an Americano. He tries not to take it personally.
Caffè Lungo: This translates to long coffee, but it actually a smaller version of the Americano. It’s a shot of espresso with only about a splash of hot water.
Caffè Corretto: I am not sure why we never order this type of coffee. Perhaps it is because we are always focused on an aperitivo before dinner. A caffè corretto is a shot of Italian espresso mixed with a splash of Italian liquor, normally grappa or sambuca.
Iced Coffee In Italian
There are two types of iced coffee that you can order at an Italian cafe, particularly during the hot summer months. You might get some stares if ordering it during the winter months.
Caffè Freddo: This is an Italian espresso coffee that is mixed with ice and sugar or sugar syrup. It is shaken with ice until it gets frothy. I don’t generally use sugar in my coffee, so this is a little too sweet for me, but can be refreshing on a hot day.
Shakerato: Another version of iced coffee is the shakerato. It is chilled espresso, over ice, and shaken. Normally this is without sugar.
FAQs – Ordering Coffee In Italy
Coffee, much like soccer and wine is a HUGE part of Italian culture. Italians take great pride in their coffee and as a result, it’s that good. There’s been a long history of coffee drinking in Italy and as a result, you’ll get great coffee all across Italy.
A simple shot of espresso or “cafe” costs as little as $1.50 or 1 Euro and change. A cappuccino will cost more, around $2-3. Prices will also vary depending if you are in a large city like Rome or Milan versus a small city or town.
There are a few popular brands of Italian coffee to look for including Illy, Lavazza, and FORTE. Each is widely used in cafes around Italy.