In Italy, one of the original homes of the cafe, the rituals of coffee shops are different than they are in the United States. Every aspect of going to a cafe is different: the beverages that are ordered, the way they’re ordered and how they’re drunk. Here’s a brief guide on how to drink coffee like an Italian, in case anyone ever greets you with “prendiamo un caffè?”
The Beverages You Might Order
Italy’s Holy Trinity of coffee beverages is:
- un caffè, a shot of espresso
- un cappuccino, espresso with steamed milk
- un caffè latte, espresso with more steamed milk
While you may vary from these hallowed three beverages, you ought not stray far from the traditional drinks. Acceptable variations include:
- un doppio, a double-shot of espresso
- un caffè macchiato, a shot of espresso with a dollop of steamed milk
- un latte macchiato, a dash of steamed milk with espresso
- caffè corretto, a shot of espresso with grappa or brandy
- caffè freddo, iced and sweetened espresso
- cappuccino freddo, a sweetened iced cappuccino
Nowhere among these variations is a “2-pump vanilla, 3-pump caramel, light-ice latte.” Adding a sweetener to a caffè or cappuccino is common, but Italians rarely take flavored syrups in their coffees. There are two notable, region-specific exceptions to this rule. In Naples, caffè alla nocciola, which includes hazelnut cream, is a local favorite. Milan’s specialty drink is a marocchino, which is cocoa powder, steamed milk and a shot of espresso.
How to Order Your Coffee
There are two rules to ordering coffee in Italy.
First and foremost, never order a milky drink after a meal. Italians don’t think of cappuccinos and lattes as dessert beverages, which partially explains why they aren’t as sweetly flavored as those served in the U.S. Instead, milk-based beverages are reserved for the morning only. In Italian culture, having warm milk sit on top of a full stomach doesn’t make sense — and they might have a decent case for their view.
Second, when placing your order, simply call it out as if you were at a bar. In Italy, cafes are bars; they’re coffee bars. When you walk into a cafe, head to the bar and call out your drink — even if the barista has your back to you. At a local cafe, you don’t have to pay until you leave. If you’re in the airport or at a touristy establishment, you might have to pay before drinking your beverage. Your barista will let you know by asking for your “ticket.”
Drink Your Coffee
Once you receive your coffee, drink it. Don’t blow on it. Don’t sip it. Drink it.
Coffee’s a drug, not a pastime, and it’s meant to be downed in a timely fashion. Many Italians don’t even grab a seat when they go to a cafe. They simply stand at the bar, down their caffè, pay and go about their day.
This raises the issue of temperature. Italian cafes serve beverages at drinkable temperatures. If you really want a beverage that’ll scald your tongue you can ask for your coffee “bollente.” A 182.4 degree latte, though, is out of the question.
If you’ve been to any coffee shop in the United States, you’ve seen a place that was inspired by the Italian cafe but has been largely adapted to fit our culture. If you ever find yourself in Italy having a coffee or trying to impress an Italian on a first date, adopt the Italian way of drinking coffee: stick to the traditional drinks, order your coffee like you were at a bar, and drink it when it comes.