Inside: How to order coffee in Italy without looking like a tourist.
Italy. The land of infinite beauty, amazing food, and breathtaking art. And the coffee…
Here’s the thing.
Italian coffee culture is unlike any other. And in order to save you the embarrassment I faced on my first trip there, I thought I’d give you a few tips on how to order coffee in Italy.
First of all, if you’re a pro at ordering at Starbucks, take a moment to clear your head. You WILL NOT be able to find a venti java chip frappucino in Italy, unless you happen to stumble into a Starbucks somewhere. Probably at the airport. Please don’t do this.
Is your head clear?
Great. Let’s get started because we have a lot to cover.
How to Order Coffee in Italy Without Looking Like a Tourist
To start, you’ll have to find the coffee. A bit confusing for us Americans, but what you’re looking for is a “bar.”
In Italy, “il bar” refers to a small shop that serves coffee, snacks, and drinks. Are we good?
Now that you’ve located the bar, the next step in walk confidently up to the barista and verbally state your drink of choice. Which is where it starts to get complicated.
How to Order Coffee in Italy – Terms You Need to Know
The default coffee in Italy is espresso. So if you walk up to the barista and say “Un caffè per favore” – he’s going to hand you espresso.
If you’re hoping for an American style “drip” coffee – you’re out of luck. It simply doesn’t exist in Italy. The closest you can get is by ordering Italy’s best take on American style coffee – the “caffè americano”.
This is basically just a shot of espresso that’s been diluted with hot water.
Note: If you’re hoping for a large cup of coffee, you won’t find it. A caffè americano is a bit more than a shot, but it’s no large mug-of-unlimited-coffee-like-you-get-in-the-States.
If you’d like to branch out a bit, here are the other basic choices:
Caffè — A shot of espresso.
Caffè americano — Espresso that is diluted with hot water.
Caffè lungo — A shot of espresso with a splash of hot water (not totally diluted like a caffè americano).
Caffè ristretto (also called caffè corto) — A short espresso that’s more concentrated.
Cappuccino — Espresso topped with equal amounts of hot milk and foam.
Caffè macchiato — Macchiato translates to “spotty” and this drink is a shot of espresso topped with a “spot” of milk.
Caffè latte — Espresso mixed with warm milk. Please note, just ordering a “latte” will result in you getting a very strange look from the barista and then being handed a tall glass of milk. I know because it happened to me.
Caffè corretto — This translates to “coffee correctly ” and I love that to Italians, this means adding some booze. The alcohol of choice is usually grappa but it can vary from region to region.
Caffè con panna — Panna is cream, and in this case, it’s usually whipped. This drink is an espresso topped with a bit of whipped cream. Yum.
Cioccolata calda — My five year old’s favorite drink in the world – this is how you order hot chocolate. And let me tell you, they are NOT messing around. This is not the weak, powdered hot chocolate of my youth. It’s thick, almost like a mousse or pudding, and truly decadent.
The Etiquette of How to Order Coffee in Italy
Now that you know the options available and can tell your barista what you’d like to order, there are a few things to note.
What to Choose When You Order Coffee in Italy
So I know I just listed off a handful of drink choices, but unlike in the States, you can’t just order willy-nilly whatever you want. Well, I mean you CAN. But if you want to avoid the major side-eye, here’s what you need to know:
The coffees with milk – the caffè lattes, caffè macchiatos, cappucinos are only to be ordered in the morning, preferably before 11am. Italians believe that all that hot milk sitting in your stomach in the afternoon and evening is terrible for digestion, and religiously avoid it. So by all means, enjoy that delicious cappuccino. In the morning.
After that, stick to the shots of espresso.
Options for drinking your coffee:
There is no taking your coffee “to-go”.
It just isn’t done. You do have options though. Such as – would you like to stand up at the counter, down your shot of espresso and then quickly leave as most Italians do, or would you prefer to SIT at the bar and quickly down your coffee and leave?
Just so you know, there is generally an upcharge to sit down. This is why it’s pretty rare to see an Italian sitting and drinking their espresso. And honestly, do you even need to sit down?
Unlike American coffee with our giant, steaming mugs of unlimited-free-refill coffee, an Italian espresso is teeny tiny.
Paying for your coffee:
Once you’ve decided on both the type of coffee and where you’d like to down your shot, you will need to tell the barista and then immediately pay for your drink.
They will hand you a receipt, and this part is important, don’t throw it away.
Once your coffee is made, they will ask you to show your “ticket” before they hand you the drink.
Bonus: if you need to use the bathroom, you must be a customer. Your receipt/ticket will also feature a code for getting into the locked bathroom. You’re welcome.
Hope you enjoyed my tips for how to order coffee in Italy! If you’re like me, you’ll absolutely fall in love with Italian coffee. I ended up bringing a few pounds of coffee home with me. Ok and some olive oil. And a moka pot. And some Italian leather shoes…..I’m not usually a big shopper but I really fell in love with the high quality products in Italy.
Looking for more ideas? Check out this list for some of the best gifts from Italy!