How to Order Coffee in Italy like a Local
Ordering your daily 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.
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, you’ll discover why you’ll never find an Italian cafe in Italy, what to call a latte 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 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. 😉
THE ITALIAN CAFE: 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!).
Secondly, there’s no such thing as an Italian cafe. Coffee in Italy is served in bars, not Italian 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 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 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).
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).
ITALIAN COFFEE TYPES & WHEN TO ORDER THEM
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.
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 coffee in Italy with confidence! 😉