Ordering coffee 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 in Italian.
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.
In this guide
- 1 How to order coffee in Italy… without outing yourself as a total tourist
- 2 Coffee in Italy: what you should know
- 3 How to order coffee in Italy: a step by step guide
- 4 Italian coffee types & how to order them in Italian
- 5 When to order milk-based coffee in Italy
How to order coffee in Italy… without outing yourself as a total tourist
In this step by step guide, you’ll learn exactly how to order coffee in Italy. You’ll learn what to call a latte in Italian, so there’s actually caffeine in it, and whether you should tip or not. Read on ragazzi.
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 X, who’s Albanian, but lived in Rome for 6 years, speaks the Roman dialect fluently, and passes for Italian everywhere we go.
Coffee in Italy: what you should 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!).
Secondly, there’s no such thing as a cafe in Italy.
Coffee in Italy is served in bars, not cafes or coffee shops, so don’t go looking for a Starbucks type venue (though the first one recently opened in Milan amidst much fanfare). 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 coffee in Italy, (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.)
When you order your coffee in Italy, 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 X 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: a step by step guide
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).
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 to learn about the different Italian coffee types.
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, pay at the cash register. You don’t have to tip, but if you want to 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). Sometimes you pay for your coffee in advance, but not usually.
Leave with a confident “Ciao ragazzi”.
Repeat the next day (or multiple times a day, like your average Italian).
Order coffee in Italy following these steps, and you might get away, without outing yourself as a TOTAL tourist. 😉
Here’s some recommended ideas for what to do between coffee breaks:
- Skip the super long lines for the Vatican Museums, Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica with fast track entry tickets from Klook.
- Go for the very best gelato in Rome (according to very scientific research by moi).
- Get all Under the Tuscan Sun, with a tour of San Gimignano, Siena, and Chianti.
Italian coffee types & how to order them in Italian
Drip coffee doesn’t exist in Italy. Once you understand that espresso IS coffee to locals, you’ll be ordering coffee in Italy like a pro. Italian coffee types can seem complicated at first, but once you get a few basic terms down, you’ll be able to create whatever variations you like.
Espresso in Italian = Caffe
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.
There are multiple versions of espresso / caffe, just like in other countries. Here’s how to order them in Italy.
A CAFFE LUNGO is a longer and slightly weaker espresso, because they let more water express through the machine. If you like your coffee super strong and short, order a RISTRETTO. You’ll get about 2 sips of syrupy caffeine that’ll leave you buzzing.
If you’re someone who needs a little dairy in your coffee, like I do, you can ask for a CAFFE MACCHIATTO, or espresso “marked” with milk.
My drink of choice in Italy is a LUNGO MACCHIATO or a long espresso marked with milk.
Drip coffee / Americano in Italian = 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. The quality is certainly much higher though. Sometimes the barista will prepare it completely for you. At other times, you might be served caffe in an cappuccino cup, with a side of hot water to prepare for yourself. Don’t be shy about asking for milk on the side as well if you need it.
Don’t feel too weird about ordering an Americano in Italy. Agri “the Italian” does it all the time. After all, an Americano isn’t a typical coffee to order in Italy, but it’s definitely not as bad as having a cappuccino after lunch.
Latte in Italian = Latte Macchiato
If you order a latte in Italy, you’ll probably be served a glass of milk. Not what you were after, right?
In case, you haven’t already guessed, latte simply means milk in the Italian language. If you’re after the Starbucks type latte that we’re used to in North America, ask for a LATTE MACCHIATO. This translates to “marked milk,” and in this case, the milk is marked with espresso.
A word of warning though. A latte macchiato in Italy is very very mild… probably a lot milder than what you’re looking for. It’ll also be lukewarm. You can adjust the strength of your latte by asking for an extra shot of espresso, but better to just order a CAPPUCCINO. In my experience, a cappuccino in Italy is more equivalent to what we call a latte in North America.
When to order milk-based coffee in Italy
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
This means that latte macchiato, cappuccinos and the rest of their ilk should only 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 coffee in Italy with confidence, ragazzi!