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How to Order Coffee in Italy (without sticking out like a sore thumb)

Ordering your daily java in Italy can be seriously intimidating.

It feels like people are angrily yelling all over the place, everyone seems to know each other, and the barista gives you a glass of milk when you order a latte.

What’s a girl to do, when a morning caffeine fix is so very necessary, yet the experience of getting one, so foreign.

And in the land of coffee, no less.

The truth is I’ve been fortunate enough to only ever have traveled around Italy with a “local,” and getting my morning coffee has been as pleasant as it should be. Of course I’m referring to hubby Agri, who’s Albanian, but lived in Rome for 6 years, speaks the Roman dialect fluently, and passes for Italian everywhere we go.

I guess husbands can be useful sooometimes. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The husband in “Italian mode.”

IMPORTANT THINGS TO KNOW
First of all, despite the worldwide perception that Italians linger over coffee for hours and hours on end, chatting and smoking, this is mostly not true. In my personal experience, Italians drink coffee faster than anywhere else I’ve been on earth (61 countries!).

Being decidedly Un-Italian and drinking my coffee very, very slowly at a table in Rome

In Italy, coffee is served in bars, not cafes or coffee shops, so don’t go looking for a Starbucks type venue (though apparently it’s descending on Milano soon). Bars can be found on just about every other corner of every city, so it should be a piece of cake to locate one.

If you do decide to sit at a table and dawdle over your caffe, (not everywhere, but definitely in busy or touristy bars), the very same caffe you slurp back standing at the bar can cost you as much as 5x more (this actually happened to us at a bar in front of Piazza Venezia. It was staggering to say the least.)

Stand at the bar when you have your caffe in Italy.

When you order your caffe, you can also ask for a free glass of water. We’ve never been charged for one, even in super touristy areas, but I’m not sure if this is because Agri speaks with a Roman accent or not. You can try though, by asking for “Un bicchiere d’acqua per favore.” Usually it’s tap water (which is perfectly safe to drink in Italy), but sometimes it’ll be frizzante or sparkling out of a bottle.

Typically, your milk based drinks will be served lukewarm, NOT hot. Probably so that you can shoot it back as fast as possible, like the rest of the Italians, and get on with it. But if you like your latte really hot, like I do, you can ask “piu caldo, per favore,” (more hot, please).

HOW TO ORDER COFFEE IN ITALY
Find a bar and walk in. Shout out a confident “buon giorno” to everyone in the bar as if you already know them (because the people in the bar, probably don’t all know each other, though it seems that way).

They all just met, but will have each other’s life stories by the end of their 3 sips of espresso. ๐Ÿ˜‰

The barista may be probably will be telling his life story to someone, don’t interrupt. Even if they’re not paying attention to you, they’ve noticed you, and they’ll turn to you in time. Be patient.

When they turn to you, order your drink of choice. (See the next section for what to order).

If you stand at the bar, the whole experience should take a few minutes. If you sit down at a table, you can take longer.

After you finish your caffe, you pay at the cash register, and you don’t have to tip. (Sometimes you pay for your caffe in advance, but not usually.) If you do decide to tip, leave 10 or 20 cents (not more, no matter how much your order came to), not at the cash, but on the banco (bar counter).

Leave with a confident “Ciao ragazzi”.

Repeat the next day (or multiple times a day, like your average Italian).

Perfect lukewarm latte macchiato – you can leave your tip on the banco or on the saucer

WHAT TO ORDER AND WHEN
Espresso
If you want to out yourself as a hopeless tourist right away, go ahead and order an espresso. But if you want to sort of, kind of, maybe want to blend in, and a shot of espresso is what you’re after, ask for a caffe.

If you want it longer and slightly weaker, ask for a caffe lungo, and for a ristretto if you want it strong and short. If you’re someone who needs a little dairy in your caffe, you can ask for a caffe macchiato, or espresso “marked” with milk. My drink of choice in Italy is the lungo macchiato – a long espresso marked with milk.

Drip Coffee / Americano
It’s virtually impossible to find a drip coffee at a typical Italian bar. Even McDonalds does not serve drip coffee. But if you need more than 2 sips of brown liquid to start your day, you can ask for an Americano, without much embarrassment.

It’ll essentially be a very long espresso, accompanied by hot water, and it’ll be nowhere close to the size of what we get in other countries of the world, but the quality is certainly much higher. Sure, it’s not typical, but it’s definitely not as bad as ordering a cappuccino after lunch.

Milk-based Drinks
Typically, Italians don’t drink any sort of milk-based coffee after breakfast, because they’re considered too heavy. (Of course, massive plates of pasta and multiple loaves of crusty bread at any time are fine though). :p

Which means that latte macchiato, cappuccinos and the rest of their ilk should be drunk in the morning. Of course, I never follow this particular tradition, and get it any old time I want, despite the look of horror on Agri’s face every time I do. I also make him order it for me in his perfect Italian, whenever possible. I have to have fun too, right?

Now go forth and order caffe in Italy with confidence! ๐Ÿ˜‰

Have you ordered coffee in Italy? Did all go smoothly, or did you get a warm glass of milk when you ordered a latte? Share your tales of success or woe in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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*This post is part of Faraway Files

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26 Comments Post a comment
  1. I am not a coffee drinker because my body reacts badly to it, sweats, shakes and all. But I do like the smell and taste! I was wondering for the very first point – order coffee, does that go for all coffees including the Americana and the rest? It’s interesting to hear you have to shout for your coffee to a roomful of strangers if you want it. I can imagine you need a loud voice to be heard, lol.

    Also how was the McDonalds there? It looks good ๐Ÿ˜€ I support you when you make Agri order the milk-based coffee in Italy anytime, any day! Here in Australia we drink all of them all day, even have multiple cups ๐Ÿ˜€

    September 20, 2017
    • The first point is more just a general greeting to everyone in the room, rather than to actually order (though it can be pretty loud in bars and sometimes you do have to raise your voice to be heard). I swear Italy is the only country I’ve been to where everyone says hello to each other all the time, even if they don’t know each other. I’ve been in bars with Agri not knowing anyone, and literally by the time coffee is over, they’ve all gotten each other’s complete life stories!

      And yes, Mcd’s in Italy is amaaaaazing! Sooo delicious with fresh squeezed juice. Def recommend!

      September 21, 2017
      • Never knew Italy was that friendly! Maybe the louder you are, the more friendly and expressive you are – the more ready you are to interact. Also even the smallest cup of coffee takes time to drink…so why not have a chat along with it ๐Ÿ˜€

        McD anywhere is good!

        September 21, 2017
  2. I adored the coffee we drank in Italy, but we probably did stick out while ordering it. Thanks for the helpful hints.

    September 20, 2017
    • I always miss a BIG cup of coffee when we first get to Italy, but by the time we leave the country, I’m not even thinking about them anymore. It’s amazing how fast you adjust. Being an introvert, I was completely overwhelmed by the cafe culture in Italy, and thank my lucky stars I was there with Agri. And even now that I know what it’s all about, I’m STILL intimidated to just walk in a bar and order…

      September 21, 2017
  3. Sha #

    Hmm, makes me wonder if coffee is the only acceptable drink there? How about hot chocolate? Will they give you the stare of death for daring to ask for it?? Haha…I’m a non-coffee drinker so this is an important question to get through…hahahaha

    September 22, 2017
    • Italians make the best hot chocolate in the world (in my opinion) but it is more like a think pudding. Sooooo good.

      September 22, 2017
      • Sha #

        Awww, really? I will be very happy if I ever get there to try one then…although my guts would probably not be happy with me since I’m lactose intolerant but there’s just some things that are worth the pain though…hahaha…thanks for the tip! ๐Ÿ˜„

        September 23, 2017
  4. I wasn’t aware of the drinking coffee while standing culture there, and wanted to sit back and slowly sip my coffee and people watch. I quickly learned not to do that when I got slapped with a sitting fee!! Italian coffee is out of this world though!

    September 22, 2017
    • The sitting fee is shocking, isn’t it? I was super surprised the first time it happened to us (despite knowing about it from hubby), but happy to discover that it’s not everywhere. We usually stay in Porta Pia, just outside the historic centre, and caffe is the same price whether you stand or sit in most places. A good thing since I like to SIT!! ๐Ÿ™‚

      September 23, 2017
  5. I very much enjoyed reading this insight into coffee culture in Italy. I now very much want to go there *purely* to put your tips into practice. Great post.

    Ciao ragazzi!

    September 22, 2017
    • Aww I’m glad you enjoyed it! I confess that despite my multiple trips to Italy (I think around 7 or 8 now), I’m unable to follow my own tips. Just too darn shy and introverted to yell out a confident “buon giorno” to a room full of strangers I guess. Fortunately, I have my hubby and his family to take care of all of it for me… ๐Ÿ™‚

      September 23, 2017
  6. Also, a latte literally just means milk so if you order a latte you will get a glass of milk.

    Italians are very into digestion and believe that if you consume milk after a certain time it is bad for digestion, thus the rule that one NEVER orders a cappuccino after 11:30 a.m.

    Once, however, at lunch with a group of international ladies, I decided that Italian rules be damned and I ordered a cappuccino at 2:00 in the afternoon. My German friend noticed and eyes wide said, “I will have one too.” Then my English friends, my Spanish friend and my French friend all ordered the same thing. The waiter sighed, shook his head and muttered, “stranieri” but he brought us our coffees and all were happy.

    September 22, 2017
    • Sha #

      Wow, that’s interesting to know…there’s an entire culture around drinking coffee there..too bad I don’t drink it though…๐Ÿ˜

      September 23, 2017
    • Haha, yes the Italians put up with a lot from us foreigners. ๐Ÿ˜‰ But I don’t care…I need my latte in the afternoon, and I so enjoy making my hubby order it for me. He gets SOOO uncomfortable… but the whole milk thing is so funny to me, cuz what about cream pastas and cheese and all the creamy sweets, never mind gelato that they eat at all hours of the day. Heh heh.

      Our friends in Rome always say the latte thing is the weirdest thing for them…because as you said, it’s just a glass of milk to them. (I guess we have Starbucks to blame for that!)

      September 23, 2017
  7. Well done to Agri, cappuccino or macchiato shouldn’t be drunk after 10 AM (I’m told is 11 in the south but I’m from the Alps so my knowledge is a bit sketchy about it)!

    The only drinks in my region (Piemonte, but it also applies to Val d’Aosta) that are drunk sitting are caffรฉ corretto (with grappa) or, if you’re a pro, a “bianchino” – a glass of white wine…

    Thanks for the post!

    Fabrizio

    September 22, 2017
    • Only caffe corretto or bianchino sitting down??!!! You guys are hardcore up there. ๐Ÿ˜‚ I must be quite the softie sitting down to drink all manner of caffe… especially lattes at 4 in the afternoon. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      October 3, 2017
  8. My favourite tip is no milky coffees after breakfast – logically it makes quite a lot of sense to me. We’ve just come back from Italy with my parents in tow who just will not function with their after dinner latte. It’s hilarious to watch the Italians react to those requests. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    September 23, 2017
    • It makes sense and doesn’t make sense to me…cuz Italians eat gelato pretty much all day long, and especially after dinner. I’m pretty sure gelato is full of um milk. Hahahaha. I swear it’s some kind of logic from a nonna that got passed down and is now considered reality. ๐Ÿ˜‰

      October 11, 2017
  9. I’m overwhelmed! I love coffee and have to have it, but I’m afraid I’d still be intimidated here!

    September 24, 2017
    • Oooh, I’m still totally intimidated to order coffee there, and so happy that I have extroverted Agri to do it for me! ๐Ÿ™‚

      October 11, 2017
  10. Ha! Fantastic post! But I will admit, I’m kind of glad I read it AFTER I went to Rome last year. I think I would have been intimidated. We just went for it and embarrassed our teens – which is pretty much par for the course. I probably ordered a cappuccino after breakfast, but it was delicious and we didn’t dawdle! Thanks for linking up with #FarawayFiles, Erin

    September 28, 2017
    • I’m still totally intimidated to order coffee in Italy. I really wonder how introverted people survive in that culture, because everyone just seems so socially graceful (which I most definitely AM NOT). It’s probably better to go and order coffee there without knowing a thing! I was shocked by all the “rules” and couldn’t believe it was so strange to order a latte after lunch! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ PS: Thanks for the link love. โค

      October 11, 2017
  11. . I confess that despite my multiple trips to Italy (I conceive around 7 or 8 now), I’m unable(p) to watch my ain tips.

    October 3, 2017

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