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Ordering Coffee in Italy: The 10 Commandments

To say that coffee is the Italians' favourite beverage would be to pull out all the stops in terms of understatement. As we all know, coffee forms an integral part of Italian culture, and as with most things in Italy, quality is a priority. It is hardly a surprise that there are no coffeeshop chains in the bel paese (the first Starbucks only opened just a month ago in Milan), as it is, after all, the world's mecca for coffee. There is a certain etiquette that just does not exist in the UK, and whilst the rituals are endearing, they are also brimming with unspoken rules. So many rules. Going into a café and ordering a coffee seems like one of the simplest things when travelling, but in Italy, it takes a special blend of luck and furtive Wikipedia searching to guarantee you are going to get what you want. To save you the future stress, here is a comprehensive guide to coffee all'italiano:   

First things first: a ‘caffè’ is not a café in Italian, it is a coffee. The word for café in Italy is always ‘bar’, whether that is an establishment that serves coffee, alcohol, pastries, or often all three. Now that that's out of the way... 

Ordering a coffee: 

  • Un caffè: Italians drink espresso. So, if you go into a bar and simply ask for ‘un caffè’, you are ordering an espresso, not a long coffee such as an americano. (NB: it is apparently much cooler to just order ‘un caffè’, instead of ‘un espresso’. Although they are the same thing, asking specifically for espresso gives away that you’re not Italian- this is not only an education in coffee but also a lesson in street cred, thank me later).
  • Un caffè doppio: a double espresso. 
  • Un caffè ristretto: is half the size of an espresso shot, normally less than 20ml (yes, really). It is strong but it is never too bitter (NB: Italian coffee will ruin coffee for you anywhere else).
  • Un caffè lungo: literally ‘a long coffee’, this does not mean an americano… This drink is still served in an espresso cup, consisting of a shot of espresso, but with about the same amount of water again, resulting in a slightly weaker coffee. In some establishments, this coffee is also served with a separate shot-sized glass of water, either still or sparkling, but it depends. If an americano is what you’re after, better to simply ask for un americano.
  • Un caffè macchiato: an espresso shot with a drop of milk, which can either be hot (caldo), cold (freddo), or frothed (schiuma di latte).
  • Un cappuccino: finally something familiar. As Brits we know where we stand with the cappuccino. However, there is room to make a faux pas here (of course there is). Cappuccinos (or more generally, coffee with milk) are considered as a breakfast drink only, so no-one ever drinks them after midday, but more realistically seldom after 11am.
  • Un marocco (or marocchino): this is probably the closest thing Italy has to a flat white. A shot of espresso, some frothed milk and a sprinkling of cocoa, I think it is a lovely way to start the day. The name is derived from the fact that when you pour the milk on top of the coffee, the colour of the froth on top resembles that of maroccan leather (thanks, Wikipedia).
  • Un latte macchiato: not so common, this is essentially a latte. In Italian, ‘latte’ means milk, so if you ask for a latte, a glass of milk is what you will get – and you can’t complain, as this is exactly what you asked for.
  • Un caffè corretto: this is where it gets exciting: an espresso with a shot of liquor – this could be grappa or whisky, it depends. Ask the barista what they recommend.
  • Un caffè d'orzo/di grano: finally, you can order a caffè d’orzo, a caffeine-free roasted grain beverage with a nutty taste like coffee, but made from ground barley. There’s no actual coffee in it, but it is supposed to be a nice warm alternative.

After all this commotion, you can sit down and relax with your coffee. But the rules don’t stop there. If you really want to do as the Romans do, once served, drink your coffee quickly, standing at the bar and chatting with the barista. Most locals drink espresso quickly in two or three sips. In the afternoons however, Italians might actually take a bit more time with their coffee and sit for a bit.

Other useful phrases/words for the bar:

  • Zucchero – sugar
  • Il cucchiaino- the small spoon they give you to stir the coffee
  • Un bicchiere – glass
  • Una tazza- cup
  • Un cornetto – is a croissant, not a cornetto ice-cream as we know it (I mean, it is also this, but there’s a time and a place).

 

So there concludes Her Campus' guide to enjoying a coffee in Italy like a native. Wake up and smell the coffee ladies!