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Italian Coffee Culture: A Local’s Guide on How to Order Coffee in Italy

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How to Order Coffee in Italy & Avoid Faux Pas (Includes Italian Coffee Vocabulary and Phrases)

If there’s something that I’ve learned from living as an expat in Italy (and being married to an Italian), it’s that Italians take their coffee very seriously. 

That’s why learning how to order coffee in Italian is as complex as the scintillating aromas emanating from your freshly pulled espresso. 

Think I’m exaggerating? If you know Italians living outside of Italy, you’ll confirm that one of the first things they miss from back home is the coffee culture. 

Before teaching you how to order coffee in Italian the proper way, we must take you on a journey to understand the coffee culture in Italy and why trying to order a “cold brew with creamer” in Italy might be considered an egregious offense to some Italian barmen. 

Join us to discover more about:

  • History of Italian coffee 
  • Insights into Italian bar/café culture
  • Essential Italian coffee terms
  • How to order coffee in Italian

Italian Coffee History: Why is Coffee So Important in Italy Anyway? 

Coffee beans were first brought to Italy during the 16th century by merchants from the Middle East. Two of the world’s oldest cafés, Caffé Florian and Caffé Greco, are located in Venice and Rome respectively and fully-operating since the 1700s. 

Caffé Florian Venice, Italy

Caffé Florian in Venice, Italy 

Since then, coffee has ingrained itself in the Italian culture as Italians have taken it upon themselves to perfect the art of coffee-making. 

More specifically, espresso-making. 


Italians Perfected the Espresso We Know & Love Today

Italy is known as the “coffee capital” for its contribution to the coffee world by inventing and perfecting the espresso.

Crafting the quintessential Italian (non-alcoholic) beverage was no easy feat. 

The invention of the espresso machine in 1884 marked the beginning of the espresso craze in Italy. The espresso machine was first patented in Turin by a man named Angelo Moriondo. 

Since then, there have been numerous improvements suggested by Italian coffee makers to make the espresso stronger, quicker, and more consistent.

how to make espressp

A Look at the Careful Science of Espresso Making

Water with a temperature of ~90 degrees F (~32 degrees C) is put under extreme pressure (9 bar, which is 9 times the pressure at sea level) to produce the purest form of coffee possible. 

A typical serving of espresso contains 120-170 milligrams of caffeine, which is actually slightly less than a typical serving of filter coffee, but because of the smaller volume, espresso thus has higher caffeine content.    


Local Insider Tip: The only truth every Italian knows about our coffee is that the best coffee is found in Napoli!

Italian Bar Culture: Where to Get Your Coffee Like a Local

italian coffee culture

Whether you are attending a Venetian Opera performance or taking a day trip to the island of Capri, you will encounter Italians going to the bar for coffee. 

Instead of religiously grabbing drive-thru coffee as we do in the U.S., Italians enjoy a visit to the bar to socialize, smoke, and sip on what they deem il vero caffè (the real coffee). 


Bar vs. Caffè: What Are the Major Differences?

When going out to drink coffee, Italians head to a bar. Most bars in Italy serve coffee along with alcohol, and usually a selection of pastries, snacks, or small plates.

Nevertheless, Italians know the difference between a caffè mostly due to U.S. cultural influence (movies, music, etc.) which started in the last century. It seems odd to Americas to say “I’m heading to the bar for breakfast!” but that’s where Italians drink their coffee (there’s also one conveniently located on every corner!).


The 7 Most Common Italian Coffee Faux Pas to Avoid

Coffee Faux Pas

Let’s take a look at the top tourist coffee flops that happen in Italy. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

1. Afternoon Cappuccinos Are Only For Tourists

Italians typically consider cappuccinos to be a “breakfast coffee”. Anyone caught ordering a cappuccino after 11 AM is automatically labeled a tourist.

2. “Do You Have Creamer?”

Italians do not use creamer to sweeten their coffee. You can ask for it, but they won’t have it. You’ll typically have to settle for milk.

3. If You Ask For a Coffee, You’ll Get an Espresso 

This is the default “coffee” in Italy. Italian bars and caffés typically don’t have American drip coffee laying around. If you want an americano, you’ll get a watered-down espresso in a cappuccino sized glass.

4. A Latte is Not Coffee 

Ordering just a latte will get you a glass of warm milk. However, if you specify that you want a caffè latte, you will get an espresso with steamed milk. 

5. To-Go Cups Are Not Typical 

Italians like to enjoy their time at the bar, even if it is just a few minutes, so coffee is almost always served in a porcelain coffee cup. Some exceptions may be train station cafés or chain coffee shops that have many travelers coming through.  

6. Iced Coffee is Only a Thing in the Summer 

Does iced coffee exist in Italy? Yes, but only during the summer when it’s really hot. We call it caffè shakerato (which is a loan word from English for “shaken”). It’s an espresso shaken with ice cubes and sugar and served in a martini glass (James Bond style).

Any other time of the year (unless you are at a Starbucks), you probably won’t find iced coffee or cold brew. 

7. Don’t Expect Non-Dairy Milk 

Although there are some people asking for dairy substitutes in big cities across Italy, many have not jumped on the non-dairy milk bandwagon. It doesn’t hurt to try asking for oat milk or almond milk, but you might get scoffed at in smaller towns. 


11 Essential Italian Coffee Styles You Must Know 

italian coffee types

Coffee is a way of life for most Italians. The ability to successfully order your coffee in Italy will show the locals that you respect and appreciate their culture.

Let’s get our Italian coffee styles in order before we order: 

1. Espresso 

(Also simply known as caffè.) The most basic form of coffee served in an espresso cup (If you ask for coffee in Italy, this will be the go-to portion.)

2. Americano 

Espresso with hot water added to it, a much thinner brew.

3. Cappuccino 

Espresso with foam and steamed milk (and many Italians also like powdered chocolate on top.)

4. Macchiato

Similar to a cappuccino, but just a splash of milk. 

5. Marocchino

From the Italian word, Morrocan (Moroccan) comes an espresso mixed with either hot chocolate or cocoa powder, topped with foam.

6. Caffè Latte (Different from a Latte) 

Espresso mixed with steamed milk.

7. Caffè Lungo 

A “long” espresso (pulling out more water and thus more caffeine from just one espresso.)

8. Caffè Doppio 

A double espresso.

9. Caffè Corretto 

Espresso “corrected” with a shot of liquor, most commonly Italian grappa. 

10. Caffè Corto 

A “short” espresso (less quantity, more aroma, less caffeine.)

11. Decaffeinato

Decaf coffee served in an espresso cup.


20 Most Useful Italian Coffee Phrases and Vocabulary

Equip yourself with phrases like “Good afternoon!” and “I would like a coffee” in Italian so you’re ready to charm the barista and order the (right) coffee.

italian coffee vocabulary and phrases

1. Buongiorno/Buon pomeriggio!

Would you like to go to the bar/café?

2. Ciao!

Hello!

3. Beviamo/prendiamo un caffè? 

Shall we have/grab a coffee?

4. Sì/no, grazie! 

Yes/no, thank you!

5. Dimmi/Ditemi 

(From the barista) Tell me (singular)/Tell me (plural) 

6. Vuoi un caffè?

Would you (singular) like a coffee?

7. Volete un caffè?

Would you (plural) like a coffee?

8. Un caffè per favore.

An espresso, please. 

9. Due caffè per favore.

Two espressos please.

10. Un cappuccino per me e un americano per lei/lui.

A cappuccino for me and an americano for her/him.

11. Vorrei un cappuccino, per favore.

I would like a cappuccino, please.

12. Basta così?

(From the barista) Is that it?

13. Ecco a Lei.

(From the barista) Here you go. 

14. Grazie.

Thank you.

15. Dov’è lo zucchero?

Where is the sugar?

16. Il cucchiaino.

The little spoon (for stirring).

17. Altro?

(From the bartender) Anything else?

18. Basta così, grazie!

I’m/We’re all good, thanks!

19. Quanto è?

How much is it?

20. Vorrei anche qualcosa da mangiare.

 I would also like to order something to eat.


Need Help With Your Pronunciation? Try a Free Week of Italian!

You can satisfy your coffee cravings for authentic Italian coffee closer to home by purchasing coffee beans, grounds, and even machines from the world-famous Lavazza Italian Coffee company or you can find Illy coffee capsules on Amazon.

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