In Italy, coffee is more than just a beverage, more than a caffeine fix in the morning or during the day. Coffee is a proper ritual, starting from in the morning when you wake up and prepare your Moka, to that very quick pause in the bar to have a quick coffee “al banco.”
And, to be precise, a bar is where you have a coffee, eat a croissant or a sandwich: the equivalent of our cafè in America. You can get alcoholic beverages too, but it is the coffee they thrive on.
Un caffè per favore!
When Italians talk about coffee, they talk about Espresso. However, if you order one at the bar, you will only need to ask for a coffee and specify how you want it.
Hardly ever you will hear a local going to a bar asking for an espresso.
According to the Italian Espresso National Institute, “Espresso is the drink obtained by forcing adequately pressurized hot water through coffee powder. Espresso coffee should not contain any additive or flavorings and should be free of any artificially added water.”
If you are thinking that sounds easy, think again!
A proper Barista will ask you how you want it, and you will not have a Menu to consult: so get prepared!
- Caffè or literally coffee, which means for Italian a regular espresso. It means a single shot served in a tiny cup, most of the time heated beforehand. If you thought this was easy, think again. Your Espresso can be either Caffè Corto (Extra short) or Caffè Lungo (a bit more watery than usual)
- Macchiato or literally stained! It’s a shot of Espresso with a dash of milk. BUT it can either be with cold milk (macchiato freddo) or with a bit of frothy hot milk (macchiato caldo). Do not get mistaken with a cappuccino as this type of Espresso still gets served in a tiny ceramic cup, and it can be drunk in a couple of sips.
- Caffè americano: well, let’s be honest here. There are very few Italians who would drink an americano. If they see you drinking one, most likely, they will ask you how you can drink that “dirty water.” As the Italian nickname suggests, it’s a shot of Espresso with hot water. Americano: well, let’s be honest here. There are very few Italians who would drink an americano. If they see you drinking one, most likely, they will ask you how you can drink that “dirty water.” As the Italian nickname suggests, it’s a shot of Espresso with hot water.
- Cappuccino: another worldwide famous Italian type of coffee. The perfect Cappuccino is a strict combination of coffee and milk: 25 ml of Espresso and 100 ml of steamed frothy hot milk, served in a bigger cup, full to its brim. The most talented barista will be pouring the milk to serve you a proper cup of Art. A dash of chocolate powder is totally optional, so you will need to ask if you want it. Usually, Cappuccino is drunk after 11 am due to the high content of milk, and NEVER during or after a meal: all Italians know it will be hard to digest. But once again, Cappuccino offers different variations. It can be chiaro (with less coffee than regular) or scuro (with more coffee than a regular one). It can be with only hot frothy milk or with just a little bit of it extra cold milk. And we are not over yet! You can ask for skimmed milk, or nowadays, with vegetable milk such as soy or almond.
- Caffè Latte: Remarkably similar to a cappuccino but usually served in a glass, and the milk is never hot and creamy, but only lukewarm
- Latte macchiato must be served rigorously in a tall glass; this drink is hot milk, not frothy, with a dash of Espresso.
- Caffè corretto, or corrected coffee. How exactly can you correct coffee? Well, for instance, a shot of grappa or other typical liquors! A corretto is not the type of coffee you want to drink in the morning with your croissant while reading the paper. However, it’s something you want to try if you are going skiing in the wintertime as it will keep you warm and make you extra happy!
- Shakerato: only served in the summer; this type of coffee is a delicious “afternoon pick me up,” mixed up with sugar and ice and served in a cocktail glass. Some cafè might have different sugary flavored syrups to offer you a different experience in every sip.
- Marocchino: born in the Northern Region of Piedmont, as a natural evolution to a very famous drink called “Bicerin.” This gourmet coffee will sweep every chocolate lover off their feet.
It is served in a small cup made of glass, where Espresso, froth milk, and chocolate are perfectly combined. Some bars will use chocolate powders on the top; some will be covering the bottom and rim of the glass with Nutella. Some others are now introducing Pistachio spread instead. In any case, the three layers must be clearly visible from the glass to enhance your senses.
- Barley coffee: we all know this is not the real deal. However, as the healthy trend has been taking over during the years, a typical Italian does not want to give up the pleasure of sharing a coffee with a friend or family. This drink is now available in most of the bars on National territory; there are several options: small cup (Orzo in tazza piccola), big cups (orzo in tazza grande), with or without milk, vegetable milk, and so on.
- Another addition to the coffee Panorama in the latest year is coffee with Ginseng. It’s Espresso prepared with ginseng extract and needs no other sweetener. Ginseng naturally increases energy and is said to make you alert. It also helps with digestion, making caffè al ginseng another perfectly acceptable after lunch or dinner coffee drink
- Decaffeinated, or simply DEKA: from Espresso to Cappuccino, you can please your palate without feeding caffeine to your body. It’s the perfect solution for those who drink several espressos in a day. Or for those who simply do not want to give up this natural digestive aid after a sumptuous dinner.
Although Italians like simplicity in life, they sometimes like to complicate the most simple things, such as coffee.
Check out this funny short video from a famous Italian Illustrator
By the way, we would like to share a little fact to make you understand the importance of coffee in Italy.
A cup of coffee is usually really cheap, just above a dollar a cup. In The region of Campania, people may pay for two coffees: their own and for what they called a “suspended” one. Anyone who cannot afford coffee for the day might walk into the bar and enquire if any pending drinks are available for the day. A little act of kindness that can brighten up someone’s day!
And if you are planning a trip to Italy this summer, you can now order coffee like a local!