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How to order a coffee in Italy - Understanding Italian Coffee Culture

by Luciano Iarusso October 14, 2018

How to order a coffee in Italy - Understanding Italian Coffee Culture

Before you take that special trip to Italy (the motherland of cafés), be sure you are clear on how to order your coffee in Italy.  It will avoid disappointment and embarrassment.  You will also want to be sure you are aware of other coffee customs so you know what to expect and in some cases it could even save you money.

I had a chance to visit Italy this summer.  Here I am pictured sitting at Caffé Letterario in my hometown of Agnone. While enjoying the views and the plentiful coffees, it occurred to me that American espresso culture has deviated significantly from the espresso culture which originated in Italy. 

Order a 'latte" in Italy and you will be presented with a cup of plain white milk. And don't expect your cappuccino to come in a grande size or scalding hot.

In fact, if you order any milky based drink after noon, you will be met with an awkward stare from the barista. According to Italians, milk based drinks are restricted to the morning only, otherwise, it will adversely affect your digestion for the remainder of the day.

Review of Espresso Based Drinks in Italy

Ristretto espresso 
Un ristretto or café "corto" is simply 1 ounce of black espresso. The crema on top, produced by good quality espresso beans and machines adds to the volume. A regular espresso is about 2 oz.. In Italy, you just order un caffé, because it is understood that you want an espresso. This is the coffee of the land.


Un "doppio" or double is two espresso drinks served in one cup for a total of 4 oz.

While  un "lungo" or long espresso is about 3 ounces of espresso.


 Espresso macchiato or macchiato as it is often referred to is a "stained espresso"; specifically, it is a shot of espresso topped up with a splash of frothed milk.


A cappuccino is one third espresso, one third milk and one third foam which peeks out from the top of the cup, for a total of 6 ounces. Usually it is topped off with a dusting of chocolate and cinnamon topping. If you plan to make a grande be sure to respect the proportion of the drink so the drink will be harmonious and balanced. 

Take note,  that drinks made with frothed milk such as cappuccino or latte will not  be served scalding hot. The optimal temperature for a cappuccino is 140 degress Farenheit.  


A caffé latte is made with a ratio of 1:3. So if you use a regular espresso (2 oz) you would add 6 oz. of milk for a drink that is a total of 8 oz.  If you are making this for yourself at home, respect the proportion if you want a longer drink.


Un Americano is a double espresso topped off with hot water. 


Un "caffé corretto" or corrected coffee is an espresso that has had liqueur added to it.  It is most often enjoyed after dinner.  The typical liqueur added is Sambucca, an anise flavored liqueur or for a stiffer coffee add grappa.


Coffee ordering in Italy - what you can expect

In Italy, your espresso will be served with a small glass of water.  In fact, t he barista may ask if you prefer aqua liscia (flat or natural) or frizante / gassata (carbonated).   This is so you can cleanse your palette before drinking the coffee. With a clean palette you are ready to fully appreciate the aroma, body and taste of your coffee. 

There is no choice of milk.  Italy is not the place to ask for  skinny latte, fat free options or milk substitutions.  As of late, cafés are offering lactose free milk to accommodate those with milk intolerances. 

Where you drink your espresso will be reflected in the price.  If you go to a café and sit at the tables, you  will also most likely be paying "un coperto", a cover charge.   You will find that most people in Italy will stand by the bar  or banco to drink their espresso. Yes it may be busy and you will wonder how the barista can even remember who ordered what but you will be pleasantly surprised at how well orchestrated this ritual is.   You should find a small spot at the bar and enjoy your caffé.  The idea is you are not supposed to be there for a long time, just long enough to drink your coffee and go.  If you plan to linger and stay longer then grab a table.  

You don't need to leave a tip.  Tipping in Italy is not expected.  At most, patrons will leave a coin or two. 

Coffee Specialties in Each Region

Each region of Italy is know for the ingredients of the area. These are reflected in the specialty coffees available.  Check out these videos to learn about regional specialties.






Le Marche 

If you don't want to stand out like a tourist when visiting Italy, it is important you understand how to order a coffee in Italy.  Additionally, you need to be aware of Italian coffee culture which is very different than American coffee culture.  We hope these brief article provides you some foundational knowledge but learning is best when immersed in the country. So what are you waiting for, get on that plane and enjoy your trip. 

By the way, when you come back, I' m sure you will be addicted to great espresso.  Then you can call meand I can set you up with great espresso machine for you to enjoy right in your own home or office.

Luciano Iarusso
Luciano Iarusso

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