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!
This is such a great post! I was so puzzled by the whole coffee-drinking thing in Italy and was embarassed multiple times by my efforts to get it right – I wish I’d seen this before I went to Rome!
Getting coffee in Italy feels like so much drama sometimes… and I admit that even though I know the “protocol,” I still have trouble following it. Just too introverted for all that interacting with strangers in a bar thing, I guess… 😉
Hahaha, having spent some time photographing and travelling around Italy, I can say that this is so true! Just one thing – ‘The barista will for sure be telling his life story to someone.’ That’s the part that always made me nervous, standing around, wondering if they registered me or not… 😀
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I totally miss the cappuccino in Italy, definitely the best coffee ever!
What a helpful post! Getting coffee in Italy does seem intimidating, you’re lucky you have your husband with you who knows how. Good to know you can get some in bars too. 😀
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I had no idea there was such a ritual to ordering coffee in Italy. Sure, it’s the best I’ve ever had but this has been an education to me. I’ll not be ordering a latte after breakfast again, thats for sure! There’s usually more than enough reason for the locals to laugh at me when I’m abroad!! 🙂 Thanks for sharing this on #MondayEscapes
It’s intense right? I really need a latte around 4pm and nothing’s gonna stop me from getting it…even Italian coffee culture. ? Anyway I think Italians are used to us hopeless tourists and just shake their heads in pity whenever we do it all wrong. ???
Love this, great post! I live in Padova near Venice and I may or may not have chuckled quite a few times at how typical and alike all Italians are. Who knew ordering a coffee could be so difficult!?
Ahh Padova is a lovely city! My sisters-in-law actually live there, so I’ve visited quite a few times. But yeah…Italian culture is STRONG. 😉 My hubby still follows the rules of Italian coffee culture despite not having lived there for 15 years!
Oh wow what a small world! Padova is such a beautiful city, but I mean is there an Italian city that isn’t? Very STRONG! Almost too strong sometimes, I think in terms of trying new things and so on. Haha well a person’s coffee is pretty serious business 😉
These are some great tips, especially for a coffee lover who plans to visit Italy very soon. Thanks for sharing.
Lucky you!! Enjoy all the wonderful caffes of Italy! 🙂
Brilliant post! This post has got me craving for a beautiful cup of coffee. One splendid cup of coffee makes for the best memories on any trip!
Coffee is an essential part of every trip if you ask me. AND it can even make me leave a country early. I NEED good coffee! Haha. 😉
. 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.
I’m with ya, all the way… 🙂
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
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! 🙁 PS: Thanks for the link love. <3
I’m overwhelmed! I love coffee and have to have it, but I’m afraid I’d still be intimidated here!
Oooh, I’m still totally intimidated to order coffee there, and so happy that I have extroverted Agri to do it for me! 🙂
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
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. 😉
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 caffé corretto (with grappa) or, if you’re a pro, a “bianchino” – a glass of white wine…
Thanks for the post!
Only caffe corretto or bianchino sitting down??!!! You guys are hardcore up there. ? I must be quite the softie sitting down to drink all manner of caffe… especially lattes at 4 in the afternoon. ?
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.
Wow, that’s interesting to know…there’s an entire culture around drinking coffee there..too bad I don’t drink it though…?
Haha, yes the Italians put up with a lot from us foreigners. 😉 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!)
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.
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… 🙂
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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!
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!! 🙂
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
Italians make the best hot chocolate in the world (in my opinion) but it is more like a think pudding. Sooooo good.
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! ?
I adored the coffee we drank in Italy, but we probably did stick out while ordering it. Thanks for the helpful hints.
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…
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 😀 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 😀
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!
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 😀
McD anywhere is good!
This is awesome! I’m a huge coffee addict too but I had no idea coffee etiquette was so different in Italy. Brilliant tips to remember, thanks.
You’re so lucky you’ve got that useful husband 🙂
Haha yeah, at least he’s good for something. 😉 But seriously, I’ve been so lucky to only travel through Italy with him, cuz it’s made my experience there so local! I’ve never once had to deal with touts or scams or crap there. 🙂