Italian Coffee Culture: How to Order Coffee in Italy and 12 Types to Order

Steve Cummings

Italian Coffee

Along with food, coffee is an integral part of Italian culture. The Italians take coffee very seriously. If you've never had authentic Italian coffee or haven't ordered it in Italy and are planning a trip there sometime soon, this guide is for you. 

In it, we will discuss the rules about ordering coffee, and the different coffee types in Italy you can order.

Rules of Italian Coffee Culture

Italian coffee culture is more than just a hot beverage that provides you with a burst of energy; it is a way of life and, as such, has its own set of rules, customs, and etiquette. While you may be forgiven for making some faux pas while traveling as a tourist in Italy, if you don't want to stand out like a sore thumb, you should try to understand the rules.

Places to Drink Coffee in Italy

A bar in Italy differs from bars in the US and other countries. A bar in Italy has more in common with a café and is the best place to have coffee. Coffee is made very quickly in Italy, and while there are options for longer drinks, it's served in smaller quantities than you may expect or be familiar with.

Interestingly, coffee bars in Italy (no coffee houses in Italy unless you opt for a tourist-frequented chain) tend to have the name Bar outside the premises, with no other name. The coffee in those bars is more expensive when you are in the more touristy areas. If you want a frugal Italian Coffee experience, go to one of the quieter side alleys for your cup of Joe.

When Ordering Italian Coffee in Italy

It is standard practice in most establishments throughout Italy for you to pay for the caffe or coffee first, and then you can go over to a counter, choose from a range of the best Italian coffee brands, and order the drink you would like.

Caffe Al Banca (Coffee at the Counter)

The most common way that Italians drink coffee in a bar is at the counter. This is the cheapest choice and generally involves ordering and then downing the coffee in one like a shot of something vital while you stand at the counter. So, it takes approximately five minutes from serving to finishing. However, if you are interested in sitting and savoring your coffee, you will pay more to sit at one of the tables. To drink like a local, though, stand at the counter at least once when ordering coffee in Italy.

Drink What When?

One of the critical rules about drinking coffee in Italy is knowing when you should and shouldn't drink different types of coffee.

For example, you will get some funny looks from locals and staff members if you order a cappuccino or any other milky coffee after 11 am or following a meal in a restaurant or some other place. Drinking milky drinks on a full stomach is heavily looked down on. Obviously, restaurants and bars are available for tourists, but don't expect them to not notice your making this huge faux pas. 

Try to aim for something without milk when ordering afternoon coffee in Italy. There is scientific evidence that suggests that coffee with milk strains digestion and can cause bloating and other uncomfortable symptoms if you drink it on a full stomach, which is another reason why Italians and coffee houses in Italy prefer not to serve milky coffees and cappuccinos beyond 11 am.

Ordering Lattes

In the US, UK, and non-mainland European countries, we refer to caffe lattes by just the term latte. However, if you are in Italy and try to order a latte by simply asking for one, more often than not you will be served with a glass of steamed milk. So, if you want to order coffee with milk in Italy, don't just ask for a latte. You need to ask for a caffe latte.

Now that we have covered some of the basic rules and you are ready to order like a local, it's time we looked at 12 different types of coffee available in most places in Italy.

12 Different Types of Coffee

Here are a couple different types of coffee you can order in Italy.

1. Un Caffè (Caffè Normale, Espresso…. short black)

Credit: Depositphotos

The most common of coffees in Italy is undoubtedly a caffe. While we are more likely to refer to it as an espresso, you would ask for a caffe in Italy. This is served warm in a dainty little espresso cup with a saucer, is dark and thick, and does not come with milk. You are usually served an espresso with a glass of water.

There are two basic options for ordering espressolungo, which means long, and ristretto, which means restricted or short. The difference is the amount of water used. Unlike an Americano that dilutes espressos, the quick coffee is much denser and more concentrated. While a lungo has more liquid, all the steam has been passed through the coffee grounds.

If you need some caffeine, a hit first thing in the morning or as the day draws on, you can also have a doppio, which means a double shot of espresso. Generally speaking, you will find it hard to find filtered coffee in any establishment in Italy, as it is just something that is not drunk there.

You also need to be aware that coffee, unless you ask for it or it is stated, is served without milk or any sweetener. You can ask for these, and the staff and locals will not look down on you as much as they would if you ordered a cappuccino after 11 am.

2. Caffè Latte

Caffè Latte
Credit: Depositphotos

Remember to ask for a caffe latte if you want a coffee with steamed milk when looking for your favorite coffee chain drink. Remember to order one before 11 am or after a meal unless you are willing to take the heat from locals about it. This is one of the easiest and best coffees to order in Italy in the morning.

3. Caffè Americano

As noted above, there is a difference between a caffe lungo and an Americano. An Americano is an espresso topped with fresh hot water to dilute the taste and create a longer-lasting drink. Regarding the different coffees in Italy, this is the closest thing you will get to a filter coffee that you may be more familiar with back home in the United States.

4. Caffè Macchiato

When you want something more than just a straight black coffee but nothing too heavy like a caffe latte or cappuccino, you should try the popular caffe macchiato. A caffe macchiato is a shot of espresso served in a demitasse cup and spotted or “marked” with a tiny amount of frothy milk.

Somewhere between a cappuccino and an espresso, it's the perfect bridge between too milky and too strong. Although it does have some milk, considering just how little there is, you should not be too proud to order this beyond 11 am in coffee bars in Italy.

5. Caffè Freddo or Cappuccino Freddo

A caffe freddo is not just an iced coffee drink. It is an iced black coffee that most bars have blended with sugar and placed in a chill bottle in the fridge. However, you can ask for caffe freddo without sugar by saying “non zuccherato“. This is served in a glass, otherwise known as al vetro.

Forget Frappuccino and all those other chain coffee houses' attempts at an excellent iced coffee; there is nothing quite like a caffe freddo or its cappuccino variation outside of one of the many coffee bars in Italy.

6. Caffè Shakerato

As you may have guessed by the name, a caffe shakerato is a coffee that involves slightly sweetened espresso and lots of ice being poured into a cocktail shaker and then shaken. Served in a glass, it is topped with some dreamy, frothy foam. You will find that some baristas add vanilla liqueur to it.

It's not just the process that makes this coffee feel like a cocktail, as it often resembles a very dark and tempting libation when it is finally served. It is a great afternoon coffee in Italy.

7. Caffè Corretto

It's funny, but you can order a caffe corretto, an espresso with liqueur, brandy, or grappa in Italy. The funny part is that the word “Corretto” means corrected or corrected. This suggests that an espresso any other way is wrong and that coffee consumption in Italy is incorrect unless it involves this addition.

8. Caffè Estivo

When you want something more unique and fancier than just a shot of espresso, and it's at the height of summer, you can order what is known as a caffe estivo. Served in a glass, this is a shot or two of espresso topped with a luxurious helping of whipped cream and lots of frothy foam. It has a theatrical look and is an excellent alternative if you want something a little more decadent, without too much milk, when ordering coffee in Italy in the afternoon or after a meal.

9. Caffè Ginseng

What if you love coffee and tea? Italy has an answer to your dilemma of which to order – caffe ginseng. This is exactly as it sounds – a shot or two of espresso blended with an intriguing ginseng root extract. The nutty and unusual flavor is not for everyone. Still, if you are interested in trying new drinks and having new experiences, this may be a great thing to have on your Italian Coffee Bucket List, as it is one of the most unique types of coffee In Italy.

10. Caffè Ristretto

A caffe ristretto is a more potent, concentrated form of traditional espresso. Brewed with the same volume of beans as a straightforward caffe, it has around half the water. While espresso is two or three sips, a caffe ristretto is a single sip ideal for anyone looking for a quick caffeine boost. This is, without a doubt, one of the most popular types of coffee in Italy.

11. Caffè D'Orzo

Now, we have made it very clear that coffee culture in Italy is a serious business and not something to be taken lightly. However, many people can't drink coffee for various reasons, including its high caffeine. If that's you or you want a break from having so many coffees, most coffee bars in Italy offer very unique coffee, a caffe D'Orzo. It is so special that it has no coffee and is made using barley. It is, though, a tasty alternative that offers that same taste.

12. Marocchino

If you are looking for something more decadent, sweeter, and genuinely indulgent, with more than a hint of chocolate, consider drinking one of the most popular drinks in Italy. This is like an Italian take on a coffee-based dessert drink, and the primary form consists of a shot of espresso served in a glass with some cacao powder topped with a decadent layer of frothy foam and a few more sprinklings and dustings of cocoa powder.

Different coffee bars in Italy will serve their own takes on this classic and sweet cup of heaven, with some offering marocchina flavored with cinnamon, hot chocolate powder, or even genuinely sumptuous and delicious Nutella.

Regional Coffee Variations

Just like any other country's cuisine and culture, Italy has slightly different flavors depending on where you are at the time. This is true when looking at different coffee types available in specific cities or regions. For example, foodies have enjoyed the caffe allo zabaione in Bologna for centuries. This espresso is blended with sweet zabaglione wine custard used in desserts. In the Veneto region, you will find a patavine, an espresso-based drink with mint syrup, for a refreshing and invigorating taste.

You can try a caffe D'un Parrinu in southern Sicily with a cappuccino-like base and strong cocoa, clove, and cinnamon flavors. Many of these different coffees in Italy are among the best.

Final Thoughts

As you can see, there are a lot of different coffees in Italy to try that go beyond the shot of espresso or Americano you may be used to ordering. Coffee consumption in Italy is very high, and while it is down to your personal taste and preference which is the best coffee to order in Italy, we hope we have given you some great choices to try while you are there.

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