Learn How to Order Coffee Like an Italian
Coffee holds a special place in Italian culture. Whether you’re in the lively streets of Rome or Florence, the aroma of freshly brewed espresso fills the air. If you’re in Italy and want to enjoy coffee like a local, there’s some things you need to know. Read on to discover the history of coffee in Italy and how to order coffee just right.
- The history of coffee in Italy
- How to drink coffee in Italy
- How to order coffee in Italy
- Can I still drink Italian coffee if I have dietary restrictions?
- Where to get killer coffee in Rome
The history of coffee in Italy
Although coffee originated in what is now Ethiopia and Yemen, Italians have fully embraced the drink for its health benefits, energy-boosting properties and, of course, flavor.
The first coffee houses cropped up in Italy in the 16th century via trade with the Ottoman Empire. Venice was the first European state to import coffee beans: the iconic Caffè Florian, nestled in Piazza San Marco, was established in 1720 and is world’s oldest operational coffeehouse. The drink soon skyrocketed in popularity—allegedly, Pope Clement VIII even blessed the coffee bean after taking a sip himself—and it was associated with intellectuals of the time.
However, the coffee we know today is largely a product of 19th-century inventions which made roasting and brewing a quick and easy process. In 1884, Angelo Moriondo introduced a new invention, a machine capable of producing a concentrated coffee, easy-to-brew coffee–espresso.
Then, in the 20th century, Italy gifted the world the Bialetti Moka Pot, affectionately known as the macchinetta. This invention found its place in Italian households, celebrated for its iconic design and simple operation.
Suggested Read: Your Guide To Eating Like A Local In Rome
How to drink coffee in Italy
Quickness is key to Italian coffee culture. Here, you don’t usually nurse a drink at a table for hours while chatting with a friend or catching up on work. Instead, locals head to a bar during work breaks, stand at the counter (il banco), shoot back their espresso and then they’re done.
In the morning, you can order a cappuccino and enjoy it at the counter with a cornetto or a sweet pastry. If you prefer a slower breakfast, some bars offer seated options, but keep in mind that you’ll pay extra for the service.
And remember: steer clear of ordering a cappuccino with your lunch if you don’t want to look like a tourist!
Suggested Read: Rome Breakfast Guide
How to order coffee in Italy
Ordering coffee in Italy is a whole different experience compared to overseas. There are no fancy drinks or complicated sizes… Here, we’ll explore the various types of coffee you can enjoy in Italy, helping you find your dream caffè.
Caffè (also known as espresso)
The classic. The one you can quaff in one shot. By far the most popular in Italy and your first step to become less of a straniero (foreigner). Toughen up. Leave your filthy froth, your ice, milk, choc chip swirls and vanilla bean tendencies back in your franchise-fraught Anglo-Saxon hometown. We’re in Italy. It’s elegant, it’s fast, you can have another six throughout the day. Italians love their sugar but I advocate going pure and taking it ‘amaro‘–without milk or sugar. It comes in a petite little espresso cup and generally you can ask for ‘un bicchiere d’acqua‘ (a glass of water), which will be thrown in for the same glorious price of around €1 standing up at the bar. Rinse and repeat. Literally.
Caffè corto (ristretto)
Shorter than a normal caffè in the same tiny cup. A drop of pure coffee for those on the run.
If you appreciate the espresso experience but find it a bit too strong, consider trying a caffè lungo – it’s a milder option with a touch more water.
What we would call a long black, this is a safer option if you’re not ready for the strength of Italy’s espresso. Its name is somewhat patronising and when baristas see a foreigner and have to guess what you’ll order, it’s either this or a cappucino.
This drink has been corrupted by certain American coffee companies, so you might not realize a real caffé macchiato means you’re just getting an americano with a macchia, or stain, of hot, sometimes-frothed milk.
It’s the one you’ve all been waiting for. It’s equal parts espresso, steamed milk and foam, and it’s deliciously frothy and fresh. However, don’t make the mistake of outing yourself as a foreigner by ordering at the wrong time of day… Ordering it for breakfast is fine, but if you take it after 11 am, with lunch or dinner or even dessert, you’re clearly just another annoying tourist.
This is basically chilled black coffee that they usually have already mixed with sugar in a bottle in the fridge so if you’re really against sweetners you will have to specify that you want it ‘non zuccherato‘.
The sexy cousin of the caffé freddo, this is sugar and black coffee shaken over ice and usually served in a martini glass with a delicious frothy crema that will have you swearing there were milk mixed in. Alcoholic version might be available, but the classic is a nice, sober pick-me-up that Italians like to throw down on a hot afternoon.
I love this name – it assumes coffee is wrong until it has been ‘corrected’ with a shot of grappa or liqueur.
Can I still drink Italian coffee if I have dietary restrictions?
As the world grows more and more connected by the second, which means more contact with other cultures and diets. This is true in Italy, where you can still get a good coffee even if you’re vegan or have allergies.
Many bars now offer dairy-free milk alternatives including rice, oat and soy milk. Some places even have vegan croissants and other pastries. If the issue is too much caffeine (especially if you’re going with young kids), they may also have tea, hot chocolate and juice. However, each bar is different, so make sure you do your research before hand–such as checking out our Rome vegan guide.
Suggested Read: Top brunch (and lunch) hangouts in Rome
Where to get killer coffee in Rome
Here are some of our favorite spots to get coffee in Rome.
Faro – Luminari del Caffè
Via Piave, 55 (Nomentana)
Faro puts the spotlight on specialty coffee, making it the perfect place to begin any adventure-packed day in the Eternal City. They recommend trying your order without any added sugar to fully experience the depth of flavor.
Piazza di S. Eustachio, 82 (near the Pantheon)
Sant’Eustachio is a local favourite café, just around the corner from the famous Pantheon. Renowned for its artisanal bean roasting and exceptional coffee crafting, it’s a must-visit destination for anyone with a passion for coffee.
Via del Pellegrino, 87 (near Campo de Fiori)
Barnum is a cool little café right in the historical centre, near the popular Campo de Fiori market and only five minutes walk from Piazza Navona. They’re not only experts when it comes to coffee but also in creating a unique ambiance. You’ll find the cozy nooks where you can curl up in a couch or communal tables where you mix with businessmen, artists and students. It’s a vibrant and welcoming space that captures the essence of Rome’s diverse culture.
Casa e Bottega
Via dei Coronari 183
Ridiculously good homemade cakes, cup cakes, pastries and tarts to accompany your coffee hit. This quaintly-decorated restaurant is located on the charming old road of Via dei Coronari, making it a quick walk from major attractions.
Via Dei Baullari, 20
The crowd is a mix of tourists and well-heeled locals but the service is old-fashioned, the location is unbeatable and finding outdoor seating in Rome is surprisingly hard. I love the elegance of this place, even if you pay quite a bit to look over the majestic Piazza Farnese.