Do as the Italians Do: Ordering a Coffee in Italy

Do as the Italians Do: Ordering a Coffee in Italy

Coffee. 40% of the world population drinks coffee every day. In Italy, 90% of Italians drink coffee every day (and usually more than just 1 cup!). Coffee, particularly espresso, is an important part of their daily routine. So what kind of coffee drinks are most popular in Italy (Hint: you won't be seeing any pumpkin spiced lattes). Also, when can you order them, and how do you order them? Read on to find out...andiamo!

Below is a list of the most common espresso drinks in Italy, along with their pronunciations. Espresso, or caffè is the most common drink ordered and can be ordered all day long: for breakfast with a pastry, for a mid morning pick-me-up, as a digestive after lunch, as well as a digestive after dinner! In the mornings, people usually stop at a bar or as we know it, a cafe. A bar is used as a cafe in the morning and a bar at night. When you enter the bar, a conversation (in Italian!) to order your breakfast might look something like this:

You: Buongiorno! (Goodmorning!)

Bartender: Buongiorno, cosa prende oggi? (Goodmorning, what would you like to order today?)

You: Vorrei un caffè per favore. (I would like an espresso please).

Bartender: Certo. Eccolo. (Certainly. Here it is).

You: Grazie! (Thank you!)

Bartender: Prego! (You're welcome!)

You will see that most people in a bar in Italy will stand at the counter to quickly drink their caffè, leave the 1 or 2 euros to pay, and then continue on to the rest of their day. If you decide to sit and be served pastries and your drink, then expect to receive a check with a coperto, or a cover charge, which is usually a couple of euros per person.

Here are some things to keep in mind when you order a drink:

  • Espresso (with an 's,' not an 'x'!) can be too strong and bitter for some people, especially to Americans who are used to drinking american coffee with sweet creamer. Try a cappuccino! Steamed milk is added to the espresso to sweeten the drink a bit. This is a popular breakfast drink.
  • Do not try to order a "latte" in Italy - you will receive a strange look and a  glass full of milk since that is the word for milk in Italy, latte.
  • Do NOT order a cappuccino after lunch time. This drink is reserved for breakfast only as it seen as "too sweet" and "too heavy" for so late in the day. If a cappuccino is what you decided you liked instead of your american coffee, you might try a caffe macchiato for after lunch or dinner instead. 

The different types of espresso drinks and their pronunciation!

Caffè (kah-FE) - when ordering: ‘un caffè’ You might know it as espresso; a small cup (usually the equivalent of a shot glass...or less) of strong coffee. When dispensed out of a machine, which is likely how you will most often receive it, it has a caramel-colored foam on the top called “crema.”

Decafinato (deh-kah-fee-NAH-toh) - when ordering: ‘un caffé decafinato’ Usually available, but don’t be too surprised if it’s not. The “high test” is most popular, partially because of its perceived aid with digestion after a meal.

Cappuccino (kah-pu-CHEE-no) - when ordering: ‘un cappuccino’ A shot of espresso in a large(er) cup with steamed milk and foam. Italians stay away from cappuccino after about 11a.m. If you see a bunch of people sitting around drinking cappuccini at 3p.m., then congratulations, you’ve found the tourist bar!

Caffé Americano (kah-FE ah-mer-ee-KAH-no)/Caffé lungo (kah-FE LOON-go)/Acqua sporca (AH-kwah SPORE-ka) - when ordering: ‘un caffé americano’ American coffee/“long” coffee/ or “dirty water,” as Italians might call it. They’ll let the water pour from the machine until the coffee becomes weak and bitter. Essentially the coffee we are used to in America.

Caffé macchiato (kah-FE mahk-YAH-toh) - when ordering: ‘un caffé macchiato’ Coffee “stained” with milk. This is very commonly seen - espresso with just a touch of milk foam on top, served in an espresso cup. A mini-cappuccino, of sorts, that is ordered at any time of day.

Caffé latte (kah-FE LAH-te) - when ordering: ‘un caffé latte’ Espresso with hot milk, a cappuccino without the foam, usually served in a tall glass. This is what you might call a “latte” in the U.S. In Italy, outside of tourist joints, you run the risk of getting what you asked for - milk. Or worse yet, steamed milk.

Latte macchiato (LAH-te mahk-YAH-toh) - when ordering: ‘un latte macchiato’ Steamed milk “stained” with espresso, served in a tall glass.

Caffé freddo (kah-FE FRAYD-oh) - when ordering: ‘un caffé freddo’ Iced (or at least cold) coffee. Caffé corretto (kah-FE ko-RE-toh) - when ordering: ‘un caffé corretto’ Coffee “corrected” with a drizzle of liquor. Grappa, cognac or sambuca are common additions.

So next time you're in Italy, try a new drink or challenge yourself and order in Italian! You might as well 'Do as the Italians do' while you're there!

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