If you’re a coffee lover, getting to know the Italian coffee culture and practices before heading to Italy for your vacation is important. You may drink coffee, but the Italian coffee life might be different from your typical experience at home.
The challenge to getting your coffee drink in Italy is primarily that most locations don’t have a menu sitting around for you to browse before you order.
Being familiar with the different offerings for coffee in Italy and what the coffee shops have available will make a difference as you head to the counter or wait at the table to place your order.
Whether you’re a coffee aficionado or you simply want to venture out and try something new, this guide is for you!
Understanding Italian Coffee Culture
Let’s start at the beginning. Before you adventure into an Italian coffee shop, you should get to know the culture as well.
There are certain customs that go alongside coffee in Italy, so you will want to be aware of those things and not accidentally do something wrong.
The good news is that if you do something outside of the Italian norm, they likely won’t hold it against you. They understand you’re not from there. However, they might also be quite impressed if you get it just right. Walk into that Italian coffee bar with confidence!
So, let’s cover the ground rules!
Italian Coffee Ground Rules
If you want to drink coffee in Italy, plan to head to a shop or coffee bar to do so. This is how most Italians enjoy their coffee, and it’s meant to be a total experience. A coffee bar is a lot like a little cafe and they will have everything from iced coffee to hot chocolate and many choices in between.
But in these little cafes, you typically walk up to the bar or a table and wait to be served and your order taken. It’s not like your average Starbucks experience where you stand at the register and wait for them to call your name.
Depending on how the bar or cafe is set up, you might pay immediately, or you might pay after your coffee. And you will find that Italian coffee drinks are different from your everyday American (or any other culture) coffee experience. They drink different types of coffee at certain times of the day.
And most of the time, a coffee drink in Italy is served with a snack or side dish of some sort to pair with it. This might also depend on the time of day.
Part of enjoying the best Italian coffees will be understanding how and what to order to get what you like. We will discuss different menu options shortly.
Just know that terminology might be slightly different, but you can still order the flavors that you love the most! Even from the various brands of Italian coffee.
Italian Coffee Types and When to Have Them
Drinking coffee in Italy has a lot to do with tradition and scheduling. They often have certain types of drinks at certain times of the day. But it’s not so complicated that you can’t easily grasp it.
For example, if you like hot milk or steamed milk in your coffee, you shouldn’t drink these right after dinner. Traditionally, Italians drink coffee with milk early in the day, and never after a meal.
So, let’s look at some of the common Italian coffees you might see and what they mean when referring to coffee in Italy.
If you’re just looking for a traditional black coffee, you can order un Caffè which is an espresso. This is a short black coffee, or also a normal coffee.
While there are certain expectations for when to drink coffee, Italians do love their coffee and will drink it regularly. They also drink small bits at a time.
These small servings of Caffè are served in an espresso cup, with a saucer. It’s thick, black coffee with no milk of any kind. This is also sometimes referred to as Italian espresso coffee because of its strength and size.
You can also order a Caffè lungo, or long espresso. Caffè lungo is a large coffee – for when you just need more coffee. You can also just get a short espresso, which is like a shot of espresso. Some people choose to dilute it so that it’s not strong espresso. This is up to your preferences!
Caffé lungo, long espresso = Twice the amount of water than in espresso.
Of course, a Caffè Doppio is like your major shot of espresso, packed with caffeine and somewhere in between Americano and authentic Italian coffee in terms of flavor and strength. You might also know of this as your double espresso option.
Caffé Doppio = Double espresso, which means there are two normal espressos instead of more water, making it much stronger than Caffé lungo.
Italian Caffè is pretty much the same thing and most comparable to espresso you’ve used to, except probably a lot tastier.
Here you can learn more about Italian espresso.
If espresso served in the Italian way is too strong for you, but you still want black coffee, try a Caffè Americano. This will be a shot of espresso prepared but will be diluted with hot water to make it more like traditional black coffee from America. This is a top choice when having coffee after dinner.
While Americano is diluted from an espresso variety, it still packs the same caffeine punch. It just has a slightly diluted flavor. Order this after a meal, and you will fit right in!
And maybe you won’t be worried about being kept awake from a shot of espresso.
How Caffé Americano is different from Caffé Lungo?
Both are diluted with hot water, but in Caffé Americano, the extra hot water is added on top of the espresso after making it. In Caffé lungo, extra hot water is added in the process of making the espresso. Caffé lungo is a bit stronger in taste than Caffé Americano because the extra hot water has gone through the espresso grounds.
Cappuccino is like crema di Caffè or Caffè latte almost. Cappuccino is the top choice for morning coffee drinks. Cappuccino is also an Italian coffee drink that probably isn’t going to be recommended any time after a meal or after 11 AM.
Cappuccino is a tasteful espresso with steamed milk foam topping the drink. Many times, the servers will draw designs in the hot milk froth of a cappuccino. You might even get lucky with some chocolate shavings or cocoa powder to add a touch of chocolate flavor to your cappuccino drink.
Caffè Latte in Italy is a bit different from American culture. In fact, if you order just a latte, you’re going to end up with a glass of milk and no coffee.
Latte is milk in Italian.
This term expresses that you want coffee with milk, but keep in mind you won’t want to just order a latte. And remember, probably no latte right after a meal either because it has milk in it.
And if you do order something with milk, like a tasty chai tea latte, you just might see some people giving you funny looks. Italian caffè is not going to be the coffee that you’re used to, but a Caffé Latte might get you close.
Some people just prefer coffee from an espresso machine paired with a dash of milk to add some milky flavor. But they also don’t want a ton of milk added to it. This is a typical latte macchiato and in Italy, it is the Caffè macchiato.
This tasty drink is an Italian espresso mixed with just a little bit of milk froth. It’s like a shot of espresso and a cappuccino coming together to create a coffee drink that it’s just a milky drink or just a coffee.
It’s the best of both worlds for coffee drinkers that prefer the middle ground.
For those iced coffee lovers out there, a Caffè Freddo or cappuccino freddo is your choice. This is like a chilled espresso with a latte in it.
The coffee is made in Italian coffee machines and then put to chill in the fridge. It is already mixed with sugar before it is chilled, so it’s had time to set and be perfectly sweet from sugar when you drink it.
This one is a bit unique and won’t be your typical coffee drink. It’s a slightly sweet espresso drink that is chilled. There is sugar and milk to make a tasty coffee. But it’s not chilled like other cold coffees in Italy.
Instead, they mix together a shot of espresso with lightly sugar-sweetened milk. It’s combined with ice and shaken in a cocktail shaker.
The result is foamy froth and espresso combined into one. If you want to make it exciting, you can even add some vanilla liqueur for an after-dinner drink.
Caffè Corretto actually translates to correct coffee in English. But it’s not necessarily correct for everyone as this drink has a dash of liqueur or brandy in it to make it “correct”.
Many people enjoy this mixture as an after-dinner enjoyment in Italian culture. When you order coffee by this name, just know there is a small bit of grappa, liqueur, or brandy added to the coffee in an Italian bar.
When you order un Caffè ristretto, it’s like ordering very strong coffee. It’s even stronger than your double espresso in comparison. Instead, these Italian coffee drinks are made with the same amount of coffee grounds as traditional coffee, but they use only half the amount of hot water.
This will be a very strong drink that is also dark in color. The flavor and the caffeine hit are intense and you just need a small amount.
Some people top it with whipped cream to help tone the flavors a bit. Whipped cream makes everything better, right?
If you want to experience Italian coffees but you aren’t sure about the heavy caffeine, try decaffeinated coffee instead. It’s not uncommon to choose this type of coffee in Italy, so you should find it among the coffee drinks listed at any Italian bar or cafe.
If you want to use local terms for this Italian coffee drink, you could say un Caffè deca.
Also, if you want a specialty coffee in Italy, such as one with cream, foam, or froth, you can order any of the specialty options but request Caffè deca to ensure they use decaf instead of normal espresso, dark coffee.
Caffè al Ginseng, as the name suggests, is traditional coffee, or espresso, that has ginseng added to it. The zing of ginseng is meant to be a booster.
The flavors aren’t for everyone, but it just might catch your interest if you like that bitter but exciting taste, or the health benefits, of ginseng.
This is not a traditional Italian coffee at all, so you probably won’t find this everywhere. The best one of the major cities in Italy to try this trendy coffee in is Milan, where it all started. The origin of this drink is Asia.
Any Italian coffee maker will offer a variety of strong Italian coffee or lighter options to meet a variety of tastes and needs. The best Italian coffee brand has a wide selection to enjoy coffee your own way!
Italian Coffee History
The history of Italian coffee is a long one that dates back to the 1500s. Italian coffee brands and the best coffee in the area were built in Venice. An individual named Prospero Alpini brought coffee beans to Northern Italy in 1570, which led to the making of cappuccino and espresso in Italy.
However, at the time, espresso grounds and other forms of coffee ingredients were expensive to purchase, so they were only enjoyed by high-class and wealthy people. In fact, at first, cappuccino and espresso were only sold in pharmacies.
Those humble beginnings have led to Italian roasted coffee being some of the best coffee in the world. And Italian coffee makers or Italian coffee companies have built an empire, making their names amongst the top of the world capital of coffee.
That’s pretty impressive. It was their history that led to their culture and practices as well. It was used to bring people together. Family came together, friends came together, and you could simply enjoy coffee. They still use coffee in this sense in Italy, which is why many cafes and bars are set up the way they are.
They evolved the drink into various unique options and continue using it as a time to convene and chat. It was thanks to the innovation and creation here that we get to experience things like cappuccino, a French press, or the espresso machine.
Patrons can walk up to the bar for their shot of coffee or sit back and lounge in the cafes to be social. And these traditions hold steady for Italians and tourists alike. Italian press coffee is so unique, and yet the entirety of the world follows their suit in many different ways!
The coffee vocabulary might vary from your local Starbucks, but you can get good coffee whether you order an espresso or a tall glass of black coffee. Of course, you can enjoy a correct coffee when the time is right too.
When you order coffee in Italy, you get a classic creation of hot coffee that simply can’t be beat. It’s not like ordering coffee anywhere else in the world!
Order Coffee in Italy Like the Locals
If you’re in Italy ordering coffee, these details will help you get the right Italian coffee for your tastebuds. Whether you want to experience cacao powder on your cappuccino or get a taste of coffee culture in the area, you can head into any of the Italian bars to order coffee in Italy for an authentic experience.
Just keep in mind the differences in terminology and make sure you know exactly what you’re getting. Italy didn’t become the coffee capital of the world for no reason.
They know what they are doing, and you are in for a treat!
What is an Italian Coffee Called?
You might hear of a Caffè or an espresso when referring to traditional coffee in Italy. Caffè is black coffee.
What is Italian Coffee Made of?
Most are made strictly with Arabica beans or grounds but may be paired in different ways. Most coffee in Italy is strong in flavor but can be diluted for different types of coffee.
What Coffee Do Italians Drink in the Morning?
Cappuccino is the morning coffee drink of choice in Italy. In fact, they follow a strict rule that you drink this treat throughout the morning, but you won’t order it after 11 AM and definitely not immediately following a meal. If you try to order one later in the day, they might question your tourist's lack of knowledge. But of course, if you want to have it at any time of the day, you certainly can. It’s not that strict.
What is the Most Famous Italian Coffee?
Any form of cappuccino or espresso is famous in Italy. However, there are some brands and coffee makers that are well-known around the world. This includes Lavazza, Illy & Segafredo Zanetti.
What is Different About Italian Coffee?
Primarily the strength, the specific type of bean that is used, but also how it is brewed and diluted. Italian coffee tends to be stronger than other versions of coffee. However, they do have many options that are diluted for those who prefer a lighter flavor.