Last Updated on 7th June 2022 by Sophie Nadeau
The smell of freshly brewed coffee and the sight of flocks of birds circling above the Piazza. A fountain trickles in the centre and the sound of laughter can be heard all around. There’s no European experience quite like sipping on an espresso in the heart of an Italian town. And so you can have this authentic experience for yourself, here’s a guide to the art of ordering coffee in Italy just like an Italian!
One of the more ‘like a local’ ways to enjoy Italy is by heading to a sidewalk terrace on a Piazza or entering a bar (a café in Italian is a ‘bar’) and ordering a coffee. Unfortunately, this experience can also be a little daunting (particularly if Italian is not your first language!)
When you first enter the bar, particularly in a busy city or town, you’ll likely find that there will be a whole host of other people who are looking forwards to their first coffee of the day. This guide is here to help you through ordering your first coffee abroad in Italy, and perhaps even having a fun time in the process!
If you’re looking for even more inspiration about the boot-shaped country, then be sure to check out our best travel quotes about Italy. And if you need to know more information before heading to the South of Europe, check out our top Italy travel tips.
- Types of Coffee Served in Italy
- Before ordering a coffee in Italy, you should know…
- Ordering Coffee in Italy Vocabulary
Types of Coffee Served in Italy
There are several types of coffee that you can order while in Italy, although you should be aware that all the options below won’t always be available. There are no pumpkin spice lattés or frappuccinos to be found in typically Italian coffee shops, and most of the time the only things available will be espressos and americanos.
Although this simply translates to ‘coffee,’ say the word ‘caffè’ to any Italian, and they’ll likely picture a small espresso! Please note that espressos tend to be much smaller than what you’re used to in other parts of the world and may resemble more of how you’d picture a ‘ristretto’. No one really uses the term ‘espresso’ in Italy.
A caffè doppio is a double espresso.
A caffè Hag is a decaffeinated espresso.
An espresso with warm steamed milk on top. This will typically be served with a spoon and a few sugar cubes. A cappuccino you taste in Italy will be unlike any you’ve ever had before and is a quintessentially Italian beverage! You should note that it will be seen as strange if you order a cappuccino after breakfast as this is seen purely as a morning drinks.
If you want coffee in your latté then you *must* say the word caffè. This is an espresso shot with warm milk poured on top. If you simply order a ‘Latte’ then you are literally ordering a glass of hot milk and this is exactly what you’ll receive!
As the name suggests, this coffee is pretty much your standard Americano. While most Italians would never personally drink an Americano, it’s usually an espresso shot watered down with extra hot water. And this is indeed what my boyfriend and I asked for when we wanted a long, plain coffee during our recent trip to Puglia.
More milk than coffee, a caffè Macchiato is an espresso topped up with steamed milk. This is similar to the French coffee of ‘noisette’.
Caffè Corretto means ‘corrected’ or adjusted espresso. Typically, this is an evening or late afternoon drink as the coffee is served with a little liqueur added; typically grappa, sambuca, or cognac.
While no frappuccinos are normally available, the popular drink of a cold coffee is known as a Caffè Freddo in Italian and is typically served with sugar and ice. This cold beverage is incredibly popular in the summer months, particularly in more touristic areas, when the temperature soars!
Before ordering a coffee in Italy, you should know…
A Café is called ‘a bar’
When you’re searching for somewhere to purchase your morning coffee, and then don’t be surprised if a local points you towards ‘a bar’. They’re not showing you the best place to sample local wine, instead, they’re pointing out the best place to enjoy a morning espresso! Yes, the bar serves alcohol in the evening, but it’s also where locals go for soft drinks and food throughout the day.
Know what ‘un caffè normale’ means
As a foreigner in Italy, it is quite likely that if you simply order a coffee, then your waiter/ barista will verify with you the type of coffee you want. If they ask you if you want ‘un caffè’normale, then they are checking that you want the standard/ default coffee in Italy, which is an espresso.
Be fast and concise when ordering
One of the more daunting aspects of ordering a coffee in Italy as that, in less touristic areas, you’ll typically need to place your order at the bar countertop. If there are people enjoying their coffee at the bar of the bar, then you’ll even have a small audience who are watching your coffee ordering attempt.
This means that you should decide what you want ahead of time, particularly because there’s probably also going to be a queue of people behind you waiting to place their own orders. I don’t say this to make you worried before your order your Italian coffee, but more so that you’re aware and prepared for your trip!
A coffee is called un caffè
And you should know that when ordering coffee in Italy, unless you specify, it’s implied that you want an espresso as this is the default coffee in the boot-shaped country. If you want something other than a short shot of black coffee, then you’ll have to say the exact coffee you want (read about some Italian coffee vocabulary below, and the types of coffee to order above!)
You should never order a cappuccino after midday
Italians believe that milk later in the day is bad for the digestive system (among other things) and so a cappuccino should only be drunk in the morning if you have to have the authentic Italian experience! In most places, even if you want to purchase a cappuccino, you’ll most likely be refused in lieu of an espresso.
A latté doesn’t contain coffee in Italy
Don’t make the mistake I did and order a latté. That is, unless you simply want a cup of warm milk, in which case, go right ahead! In Italy, latté just means milk and the only coffees available are cappuccinos, espressos, and macchiatos.
Check out how to pay
Sometimes you ask for your bill and pay at your table, and at other times it’s normal to head to the counter on your way out to pay. Try and see what others are doing, but generally, if you’ve ordered from your table, you’ll probably pay while sitting at your table.
And if you’ve ordered while standing at the counter? Well, just try and see what others are doing! Before ordering any coffee or snack at a smaller establishment, I would also check if card is accepted as many family-run dining eateries only accept cash. The currency in Italy is the Euro, which is used in plenty of other countries across Europe.
Ordering Coffee in Italy Vocabulary
“Prendiamo un caffè?” – Fancy a coffee?
“Buongiorno, un caffè per favore” – Hello, a coffee, please.
Lungo – The Italian word for ‘long’ is perfect for if you want a diluted coffee and longer style of drink.
Cioccolata Calda – How to say ‘hot chocolate’ for if you want a warm beverage but don’t want to order a coffee!
Tè – This word means tea and is pronounced ‘teh’.
In una tazza grande – In a big cup
Other Italian words: If you’re looking for more Italian greetings, then you can read my complete guide to basic Italian phrases here!
Sophie Nadeau loves dogs, books, travel, pizza, and history. A fan of all things France related, she runs solosophie.com when she’s not chasing after the next sunset shot or consuming something sweet. She now splits her time between London and Paris! Subscribe to Sophie’s YouTube Channel.