5 Ways to Order Coffee in Italy
Coffee is such a predictable part of my everyday life, I hardly even thought it was worth writing about. I was wrong. I have come to realize that coffee is such an important part of my life and I have unwillingly taken it for granted!
I inherited the coffee habit from my father; there was always a pot percolating on the stove. He always drank it hot with milk and two sugars. For years I imitated his recipe but since living in Italy, I have become accustomed to black coffee – yes even espresso – pure, black, no sugar.
When I was modeling, I went to a casting and another model asked me, “What’s your drug of choice?” I replied “Coffee.” She just rolled her eyes. Needless to say, I wasn’t invited to her party that night.
Ok, back to the point; coffee. Italian coffee. Some say that Italian coffee culture is in jeopardy because of the international coffee chains opening. Have no fear, a study by R&M shows that 90% of the Italy coffee market is managed by independent cafes. Don’t forget, all those coffee chains were inspired by the small Italian cafe. The study also showed that 75% of the coffee consumed by Italians is drunk at home.
I once saw a documentary that talked about how coffee was responsible for the industrial revolution. Sitting around drinking the hot caffeinated beverage turned into brainstorming sessions which then turned into new revolutionary ideas, machines and production processes. If you think about it, this still happens today.
Coffee in America is not the same
Don’t get me wrong, coffee in America is really good, but imitation Italian coffee is not. Once, I was completely aghast when I went to a coffee chain in the U.S. with my niece. She ordered something called Frappuccino, which should be written Frappuccino®, as it is a commercial hybrid of coffee, caremel and whipped cream.
Beside the fact that it’s like a million calories, I couldn’t bring myself to drink one, and just ordered a regular espresso. Another time, I was staying at an airport hotel and there was an Italian style caffè in the lobby. I went up to the counter and asked for a cappuccino. It took the boy about 20 minutes and all my patience. He had never made a cappuccino before and had to look up the instructions in the corporate manual.
You can find coffee anywhere in the world, but Italian coffee is different. It must be the water or the romantic music or … something else. There is some secret they are not telling us!
In general, coffee can be drunk and served at any occasion in Italy. Traditionally, a meal is always finished with an espresso. Most Italians will get a normal espresso after dinner, but there is no shame in having decaffeinated coffee in the evening. The one faux pas affiliated with Italian coffee is don’t order a cappuccino after 11 AM. The chef at my favorite trattoria still talks about the time when my nephew ordered pork shank with cappuccino for dinner!
Cafè vs. Caffè
I always get the spelling wrong too.
Cafè is the place you drink coffee. (Note the accent on final vowel: è not é. In English, cafe, we don’t use the accents and the plural is written cafes.)
Caffè is the drink or the grounded beans. A trick to remember: ff, two cups.
Bar Vs. Cafè
When I first moved to Europe I had to use pay phones to call home. The closest one was across the street from the hostel I was living in. My mother was always shocked when I would call home. “You’re at a bar? Why are you at a bar this time of day?”
In the U. S. a bar is very different from a cafe. Bars are where you drink beer, play pool and run into scary biker guys. Here in Italy (and Spain) a bar is a cafe. You can get a whiskey or an espresso, or both.
Espresso means quick. The Milanese don’t have time to sit around and chat over coffee, they take it standing up and usually gulp it down in one quick shot.
Made with freshly ground compressed coffee, it is a blast of pure energy. Served in small cups but filled only a quarter. Variations: Lungo (a bit more than ¼ full), Doppio (double dose), Macchiato (with milk), Corretto (with a shot of liquor, usually Sambuca), Affogato (with a scoop of ice cream).
In Milan, you will often hear people order “un cappuccio“. Cappuccio is the name for the hoods monks wear. It is said that the similar light brown color gave the beverage it’s name. Cappuccino literally means “little hood”.
A favorite even for children. Served in a large cup and made with an espresso lungo and frothy milk. Usually sprinkled with cocoa or cinnamon powder. In Italy, it’s tabu to order after 11 am. Variation: Marocchino, smaller version often served in a glass espresso cup.
A caffè Americano is not filter coffee in Italy. If you ask for an Americano you will get an espresso in a large cup and a tea pot with extra hot water. Some places will add the water for you if you ask.
The Moka is a two-part coffee maker. The water boils on the bottom and is funneled to the top through the coffee. Most popular for coffee at home but can be found in some restaurants as well.
To call it iced coffee would be a sin, but basically, that’s what it is. It’s an espresso mixed in a shaker with ice and sugar and served in a cocktail glass or tumbler. Variation: Add a shot of Baileys or other cream liquor.
If you ask for “un latte“, you will get a glass of milk. Latte is milk. If you are thinking of the kind of Latte you get in a U. S. cofee house, then you should ask for café al latte. You may want to ask for un cafe Americano al latte.
Latte macchiato is a tall glass of warm milk with a shot of espresso. Macchiato means “stained”. Cafe macchiato is coffee with a spot of milk.
Italian coffee brands you will find at bars and cafes in Italy