What I love about Italians is that coffee rituals basically define their day. I can relate. A quick cappuccino or two in the morning (usually standing up at the bar), maybe a caffe macchiato if you need a pick-me up mid-afternoon, and then finishing a lovely dinner with an espresso.
But if you’re not used to the rituals of Italian coffee culture, it may feel a bit confusing when you visit—and nothing should come between you and delicious coffee! So I’ve laid out how to order a coffee in Italy, answers to common questions, different drinks you can order, some words that will help, and a bit about the pastries.
Common questions about Italian coffee culture:
Stand at the bar or sit at a table?
Either is fine, based on what you want. Most Italians will come into a bar in the morning and have a cappuccino or something similar standing at the bar, maybe with a pastry. If you sit, it will typically cost more.
On that note, let’s talk bars…
What we call a café in the U.S. is called a bar in Italy, so don’t feel weird hitting up a bar at 7:00am! And to make matters even more confusing, coffee is called caffé in Italy.
How do you pay?
Many people not only want to know how to order a coffee in Italy, but how the actual transaction works. The payment process is actually quite confusing…it varies by bar. First rule, watch what other people are doing.
At a super busy (and/or more touristy) place, it’s sometimes common to go pay for your order at the register, then they’ll give you a receipt to take to the bar. At most of the more neighborhood places I went recently, you just order at the bar and pay when you’re done. If you sit, you can order at the table, and then either pay there or at the register when you’re done. Clear as mud??? 🙂
Can I order a cappuccino after 11am in Italy, or is that a faux pas?
Italians don’t typically order cappuccino, caffé latte, etc. after 11am, and will definitely peg you as a tourist if you do. They believe the milk is bad for digestion, and would never have after a meal.
But I still do it sometimes, if it’s what I really want. Obviously they’ll still serve it and it’s not like they’ll give you a hard time…they’ll just smile because you’re a tourist 🙂
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How to order coffee in Italy
Here’s a list of handy drink names to use while ordering coffee in Italy. I’m a cappuccino girl myself, and definitely started to adopt the tradition of a caffé macchiato in the afternoon.
Commonly ordered in the morning
- Cappuccino: equal parts espresso and milk, with more foam
- Caffé latte: espresso with more milk (note, “latte” means milk so if you just order latte you might get a surprise!)
- Latte macchiato: mostly steamed milk with just a splash of espresso
Other things you can order (including later in the day)
- Un caffé: this will get you an espresso
- Caffé macchiato: espresso with just a splash of milk
- Caffé corretto: leave it to the Italians to call “corrected coffee” one with alcohol…usually grappa, sambuca, etc.
- Caffé americano: more like American drip coffee, this has a quantity of hot water added
- Caffé lungo: just a little hot water added, but not like americano
Pro tip: Don’t order just a “latte”…latte means “milk”, so that’s what you’ll get a glass of 🙂
A few Italian coffee-adjacent words to know
If you’re trying to figure out how to order coffee in Italy, these Italian words will come in handy.
- Zucchero – sugar; so “con zucchero” would be “with sugar”
- Té – tea
- Quanto costa – how much does it cost?
- Per favore – please
- Grazie – thank you
- Also, while an Italian will basically never do it, you can ask “for takeaway” in a pinch and get a small styrofoam cup if you’re in a super rush.
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Before we go, let’s talk pastry…
OBVIOUSLY you have to have a pastry with your coffee. And since one of my stated life goals is to “try all the pastries in all the world”, ignoring the sweet side of the Italian coffee experience would be weird. Italians have quite the sweet tooth, so having a pastry with your morning caffé is quite common.
The most omnipresent pastry you’ll see from a breakfast standpoint is cornetti (the plural of cornetto). These look a lot like French croissants, in that they’re crescent-shaped and made using laminated dough. They are different, though, in taste and texture. Cornetti are softer and generally infused with citrus flavor, and are often filled (though plain ones are always available too).
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Some of the different cornetti options you’ll see are with a cream or custard filling (often called con crema, with regular and pistachio as favorites), with jam (marmellata…often apricot though you’ll see a few different flavors), and things like chocolate chip (al cioccolato).
You’ll also sometimes see some traditional French croissants and chocolate croissants. Donuts were pretty common on this most recent trip, though I don’t remember them from previous visits. And then there are often many other types of pastries you’ll see throughout the day, including cannoli, sfogliatelle (very intricate triangular flaky pastries), cantucci (like what we call biscotti, to be dipped in wine), and more.
While you’ll see a lot of these all over the country, learn about what’s a regional specialty…I had some sfogliatelle in Rome, but they were terrible (which makes since, as these are a Sicilian delicacy)
It’s no wonder I gained about 10 pounds in 2 weeks on my last trip! Between my three-a-morning coffee and pastry habit and then the phenomenal food in Cortona, I was eating like a linebacker. Hopefully this has provided some insight into the complex and passionate Italian coffee culture, and you feel confident about how to order a coffee in Italy!
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