You might have read posts about coffee in Italy possibly about a thousand times before.
But probably it is worth writing one more post about the topic because I still hear too many people ordering “un espresso” when asking for coffee, here in Italy. So let’s take some time to recap a few basic guidelines you need to follow if you want to order coffee in Italy.
Well, as I always say, you can basically do whatever you want as long as you are nice and polite but, if you don’t want to be labeled as just another foreigner who doesn’t know how things work, here in Italy, never go to the counter and ask for an espresso.
Coffee is espresso, here in Italy, so the proper way of asking for your Italian caffeine fix is “Un caffè, grazie“.
Whenever you ask for un caffè, you will undoubtedly get the usual shot of espresso, no worries. However, since there are different options for drinking coffee, if you just ask for un caffè, the waiter might ask you “Normale?“. If you want to be on the safer side and avoid questions you might not be able to answer, just ask “Un caffè. Normale, grazie” and you’ll get your espresso.
Well, what are the other options for drinking coffee, then?
A very common option is caffè macchiato, which is basically espresso with a shot of milk. But be aware, it could be hot or cold, so if you just ask for “Un caffè macchiato, grazie“, the waiter will reply asking you “Caldo o freddo?“. So, once again, if you want to avoid questions, just go for “Un caffè macchiato caldo” or “Un caffè macchiato freddo“: in the first case, you will get a cup of espresso with a shot of warm milk, while in the other option you usually get your espresso and a little jug of cold milk on the side.
If you are curious and want to try other options, you have a wide variety of choices. You can have “caffè decaiffeinato” (decaf coffee), if caffeine is too strong for you, or “caffè al ginseng” (ginseng coffee) or “caffè d’orzo (barley coffee), if you really don’t like the common taste of coffee. I never have them, so I don’t have a clue why, but it seems that caffè al ginseng and caffè d’orzo must be ordered in tazza grande, which is a bigger cup (like the one normally used for cappuccino).
If you feel brave, instead, you can ask for “un caffè doppio“, which is basically two cups of espresso in one. If you go for “caffè ristretto“, instead, you will get a shorter shot of espresso, just a sip basically, while with “caffè lungo” you get a bigger shot of coffee. Be careful if you ask “un caffè corretto“, instead, because this means that the waiter will add some liquor to your espresso and he or she would usually ask you which type of liquor you want to add to your coffee: I never have it, but the most common way of drinking is “un caffè corretto con la grappa” or “con la Sambuca“, two very strong Italian liquors.
If you miss filter coffee, I totally recommend you to ask for “un caffè americano“. This will get you an espresso in a cappuccino cup and a jug of hot water on the side, which you have to pour into the cup: it might seem weird but actually the result is quite good! If you are looking for something similar to the latte you are so used to drink back home, you need to ask for “un latte macchiato“, which is warm milk with a shot of espresso usually served in a glass.
If you want a treat or something sweeter, you can ask for “un caffè con panna“, which is an espresso with a shot of whipped cream, or “un marocchino“, an awesome mixture of chocolate, coffee and milk usually served in a small glass cup. In the summer, instead, you can drink “un caffè freddo” or “un caffè shakerato“, which is basically coffee served cold with ice. And if you are in Sicily, you must not miss the “granita al caffè“, but this is a completely different story.
And what about cappuccino?
You can’t write a blog post about coffee in Italy without mentioning cappuccino, right? Well, as I have already written a while ago in a post regarding the infamous cappuccino rule, I am a bit fed up with all those articles saying that you can’t have cappuccino after 11 am. As I said before, you can do whatever you want. And you can have cappuccino whenever you want, basically.
Just keep in mind that an Italian would never ever drink cappuccino after a meal, be it lunch or dinner, so if you order a nice, warm cappuccino after your pizza you’ll be labeled as just another tourist who doesn’t know anything about Italian food. But we Italians are way too serious about food, so who cares, right?
And even we Italians sometimes don’t know how to behave. Let me give you an example: in most bars, here in Italy, they serve coffee with a little glass of water on the side. Most of the people I know, myself included, always drink such water after coffee, but I have recently learned from someone from Naples that you are supposed to drink water BEFORE having your coffee, as it sort of cleans your mouth in order to enjoy your coffee better, which makes perfect sense.
So, you see, there are so many rules when it comes to food here that it is impossible to know them all, so you don’t need to worry too much. But if you forget using the word espresso and go for caffè, this will definitely make you feel more Italian – or just not a tourist, at least!