If you have ever visited an Italian city like Rome, Venice, Milan, or Florence, the Italian coffee experience is a must on your tour.
As Americans, we dream of sipping coffee in a beautiful Italian piazza, Vespas zipping by, surrounded by Italians. In reality, when I was a student on my year abroad in Florence I was a nervous wreck ordering in Italian. I walked by the coffee shops and I knew I didn’t know the etiquette — how to navigate in there without seeming like a totally awkward tourist. What I saw seemed chaotic and confused, loud and intimidating. Italians crowded up to the bar with all kinds of coffees I had never seen. Everything quick and Italian words flying around, la bella vita!
First thing to know is that in Italy the coffee shop is called il bar. Prendiamo un caffe al bar? Ti offro un caffe?
Most bars have 2 systems. Either you go to the cash register and pay first and then with your receipt go up to the barrista and place your order. Or you order and drink your coffee, then go pay at the register. I would always opt for the first option because in big cities and busy bars you pay first.
Another choice is to sit down and get table service instead of standing at the bar, called al banco. Sitting and being served by a waiter is more relaxed but does cost more, sometimes upwards of 50% or more. Piazzas in the city centres will always have a premium cost. This could be well worth it if you have flown all that way to linger. Standing at the banco is what most Italians do and is meant to be quick.
Now you’re inside and faced with the menu of coffee choices . . . this is the fun part.
I have compiled a list of the coffee terms that you’ll be able to use when ordering. I would try as many as you can.
Vorrei . . . I would like:
Caffe or “caffe normale” — what the Italians call a small shot of espresso coffee
Caffe deca or decaffinato — the decaffinated version of espresso
Caffe doppio — a double shot of espresso in one cup, a very American thing to order
Caffe stretto or lungo — when you ask for an espresso to be very concentrated (stretto) or a little more water (lungo). But both are single shots in a cup
Cappuccino — a shot of espresso in steamed milk and foam from the milk
Caffe macchiato — a shot of espresso with a dollop of milk foam
Caffe latte — a cup of steamed milk with a shot of coffee with a ratio of 2/3 milk to 1/3 coffee, much milkier than a cappuccino
Marocchino — a shot of espresso with a dollop of milk foam and then a generous sprinkle of cocoa powder
Caffe d’orzo — coffee made from barley so 100% caffeine free but a different nutty smoky flavor that is very different from coffee
Affogato al caffe — a shot of espresso is poured over a small cup of ice cream (yummy)
Caffe corretto — when alcohol is added to a shot of espresso, like amaretto, Baileys, or grappa
Caffe americano — shot of espresso in a large cup with a large amount of hot water on the side, which you then add to the coffee to taste
Shakerato — a shot of espresso shaken with sugar (optional) and ice to make a cold creamy foamy coffee usually served in a glass, a perfect summertime coffee. You can also ask for it senza zucchero (without sugar) and it comes out a little less creamy.
In any coffee with milk, you can ask for substitutions which are popular in Italy too:
Latte di soia soy milk
Latte di mandorle almond milk