A Guide To Ordering Coffee in Italy

Updated on November 19, 2016
Anne Harrison profile image

I fell in love with Florence at the age of 10 and have travelled widely since, but there are always more places to discover!

Follow hidden alleys to find the perfect coffee (c) A. Harrison
Follow hidden alleys to find the perfect coffee (c) A. Harrison

It Began In The Tuscan Town of Vinci….

It may seem the simplest of things, but in Italy ordering coffee is beyond an art form. I realised this one morning in Vinci, a small town perched high above the Tuscan countryside.

Everyone, it seemed, was out enjoying the sunshine. The café was crowded and people thronged through the main square. Having just finished our brew, we left our spot at the bar and strolled outside. In 1452 Leonardo da Vinci was born in a small farmhouse a short walk from where we stood, and the town retains its medieval air. As we looked over a classic vista of stonewalls and olive groves, farmhouses and cypress trees, we noticed a couple heading towards the café. They hesitated amongst the milling throng – an obvious sign of a tourist – as if searching for the end of the queue. This is no way to survive in Italy: we had to show them. After all, we’d been the same only a few weeks ago.

Bernini's sunken fountain, Rome (c) A. Harrison
Bernini's sunken fountain, Rome (c) A. Harrison

Italian Coffee Culture

Our first taste of Italian coffee came at Rome airport. Flying to anywhere from Australia takes forever; we’d spent a lifetime crammed in that plane. Dawn had yet to touch the sky as we landed. Customs seemed asleep; Immigration waved us through after a lazy stamp somewhere near our passports. The carousel took awhile to wake-up and, after a few fitful starts, finally brought us our luggage.

Searching for the exit, we passed a café: a long dark bench decorated with the prerequisite mirror and a myriad of bottles of colored liqueurs. The barista sported a pristine waistcoat and a perfect three-day growth. Our coffees were dark and strong; suddenly finding the right bus was easy. We drove through a city just rising from slumber, as the light of dawn fell on the ancient monuments and made the stone buildings glisten.

Ah, Venice (c) A. Harrison
Ah, Venice (c) A. Harrison
The cafes of the Piazza San Marco © A Harrison
The cafes of the Piazza San Marco © A Harrison

Coffee Arrives in Venice

Coffee arrived in Venice via Egypt in the late 16th century, brought by Arab traders. Initially deemed sinful, this ‘wine of Arabia’ was all too readily adopted by the city’s merchants. Concerned about the clandestine nature by which the wealthy met to drink the bitter brew, the Doge appealed to the Pope; after tasting one cup Pope Clement VII deemed coffee ‘Christian’. The first cafés open in Venice around 1645. They quickly became popular, and, now touched with an air of wealth and sophistication, the taste for this new drink rapidly spread. The famous Café Florian in the Piazza San Marco opened in 1720, and remains open today.

Ordering A Coffee In Italy

 
 
 
 
caffè
a simple espresso
café della casa
the house speciality
macchiato
an espresso with a dash of hot milk
caffè con zucchero
an espresso with sugar
doppio
a double espresso
caffè ristretto
half the size of an espresso
A cafe in Assisi (c) A. Harrison
A cafe in Assisi (c) A. Harrison

Essential Of Drinking Coffee When In Italy

Morning coffee in Italy is a serious affair. In Venice, as the sun is rising, stand in any alley and watch as both overall-clad workers and impeccably dressed businessmen stride through the door and, with little more than a nod to the barista, wait for their brew to be set before them. This is usually a simple caffè, an espresso complete with the characteristic crema to add flavor and a touch of sweetness. Most stand at the bar and down their shot in two gulps at the most, then are gone. Even in the depths of winter, the ritual continues.

Some had the time to stay longer, paying extra for the luxury of sitting at a table and reading Il Figaro while washing down a panini of tomato, salami and cheese with a milky coffee. Few talked. (A word of caution on ordering a latté – you may be served a glass of steamed milk, even if you ask for a caffè latté.)

The perfect view for a cup of coffee © A Harrison
The perfect view for a cup of coffee © A Harrison

The Gourmet Treveller

The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee
The Devil's Cup: A History of the World According to Coffee

A world-wide journey which traces the role coffee has played in shaping civilisation, from the day it was first discovered.

 

How to Survive An Italian Cafe

To the uninitiated, ordering may seem little more than a jostling of elbows and waving of arms while pushing your way to the front of the bar (for queues are more a thought than reality.) Yet it is not so. After a ciao or buon giorno, place an order with the cashier and pay; then, with another greeting, elbow your way to the other end of the bar and hand your receipt to the barista. In a few places, however, you order first and pay as you leave. Simply watch what the other patrons do. Once served, down the scalding brew as quickly as possible. No sips; most locals down an espresso in two or three gulps.


Olives and cyprus - a classic Italian view (c) A. Harrison
Olives and cyprus - a classic Italian view (c) A. Harrison

The Etiquette of Ordering Coffee in Italy

Only tourists drink milky coffees such as a cappuccino or a latté after midday, for milk is considered a breakfast food. A café filled with people drinking such travesties of an afternoon is obviously one for tourists. Instead, opt to drink where the locals go. Aside from an espresso, try a caffè ristretto, usually half the size of an espresso, intense in flavor but never bitter. Others to try include a caffè con zucchero – an espresso with sugar – or a caffè macchiato, where the espresso is literally ‘corrupted’ with a spoonful of milky foam. For a caffè lungo, or Caffè Americano, the water runs through the machine to make a long coffee in which the brew is both weak and bitter. Italians call such servings acqua sporca, or dirty water.


The world of Renaissance Florence continues (c) A. Harrison
The world of Renaissance Florence continues (c) A. Harrison
Inside The Pantheon, near the Cafe Eustachio © A Harrison
Inside The Pantheon, near the Cafe Eustachio © A Harrison

Where To Drink Your Coffee

Unlike the seriousness of the morning brew, I think of the afternoon beverage as the one to sip while recuperating my strength for more sight-seeing. This is the time of day where it can be well worth the while of paying extra for the luxury of simply sitting, and so watching the world go by: whether in an art gallery, or atop the Uffizi under the shadow of the giant clock of the Palace Vecchio; a piazza in a small town, watching the locals and the occasional priest hurry by; on a portico in Assisi, overlooking the hills.

Many places offer a café della casa, or house coffee. In the small Piazza di Sant’ Eustachio, (lying between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona), is a café not to be missed. Perfect for coffee at any time of day, as midnight approaches crowds spill from the Bar Sant’ Eustachio and into the tiny piazza. All of Rome , it seems, has come for the famed aniseed laced brew; many claim this is the best coffee in Rome. Its making remains a secret, but everyone scoops the last specks from their cup.

Besides, there is always tomorrow to discover somewhere even more delightful for a cup of magical brew.

Questions & Answers

    © 2013 Anne Harrison

    Comments

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      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        5 months ago from Australia

        Thank you Hasnathan, I hope you get there to visit soon!

      • hasnathan profile image

        Hasnathan 

        5 months ago from indonesia

        i love coffee, someday i will go to italy and taste it.

      • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

        Linda Sue Grimes 

        2 years ago from U.S.A.

        Naw, I just like a plain, old cup of black coffee! Have never liked espresso.

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        2 years ago from Australia

        Hi Maya, if you like milky coffee, go for a cappuccino or a latte. why not be brave and try a true espresso when in Italy, or a a macchiato - just add sugar if you find it too strong. After a few days you won't go back.

      • Maya Shedd Temple profile image

        Linda Sue Grimes 

        2 years ago from U.S.A.

        So, in Italy a simple cup of coffee is always espresso? I love coffee but I don't like espresso. What would I do in Italy to get a regular, plain old cup of joe?

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        3 years ago from Australia

        Hi Stella, the world is divided into those who like coffee and those who do not! I'm continually amazed at how a world of culture, of history and lifestyle sleeps in a little cup - as you say, it's serious stuff.

        Thanks for reading my hub, Anne

      • ladyguitarpicker profile image

        stella vadakin 

        3 years ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

        Hi Anne, I enjoyed the photos in your Hub. This was a very good article. My Aunt Jeana comes each year and I get plenty of those espresso coffees , which I confess I do not like them, but drink them anyway, as this is serious stuff. Thanks, Stella

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        3 years ago from Australia

        Hi Ian,

        The great thing about hub pages is the people you meet through their writing, people you would never otherwise come across. Thank you so much for your kind words, they mean much to me.

        I have never heard of Pollone, I look forward to reading your hub,

        Anne

      • Twilight Lawns profile image

        Twilight Lawns 

        3 years ago from Norbury-sur-Mer, Surrey, England. U.K.

        Anne, I am so glad I found you; through the reference to Angie Jardine. I thought I would look to see who this compassionate person might be, and I have found one of the best and most interesting Hubs. You have captured the essence of Italy so well in this. I love Italy and if I could just "push" you slightly n my direction, you will find a Hub I wrote concerning Pollone, a village in Piedmont, near Biella.

        Coffee? I love it.

        Your hub? I love it also.

        Thank you

        Ian

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        3 years ago from Australia

        Hi Peggy,

        Thank you so much for your kind words, and for sharing my hub.

        I hope you make it to Italy, and have a sup of coffee (and maybe a glass of prosecco!) for me,

        Anne

      • Peggy W profile image

        Peggy Woods 

        3 years ago from Houston, Texas

        My hubby has been to Italy on business trips but alas, I have not been able to join him. Hopefully some day I will not only see parts of Italy but enjoy good cups of coffee while there. Up votes and pinning to my Italy board and happy to share on HP.

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        3 years ago from Australia

        So true, peachpurple. The great thing about travel is how even the most everyday of things are seen in a different way.

      • peachpurple profile image

        peachy 

        3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

        wow, even drinking coffee is a state of art in Italy!

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        3 years ago from Australia

        Life is too short for a bad cup of coffee - glad you enjoyed the hub, but should you head to Italy, you'll come back drinking more than 1 cup a day!

        Thanks for stopping by, Anne

      • mary615 profile image

        Mary Hyatt 

        3 years ago from Florida

        I am reading this Hub at a bad time, having just got up from a good sleep. This made me want to stop and have my one and only cup of coffee for the day. Mine is nothing like the coffee you described, though. I learned a lot from this great HOTD!

        Congrats!

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        3 years ago from Australia

        Thanks for stopping by Bill - but I'm not sure if my husband would approve if I took along an Italian on our next trip!

      • Bill Armstrong profile image

        Bill Armstrong 

        3 years ago from Valencia, California

        How to order a coffee in Italy - Take an Italian with you ;) Great page, thanks for sharing

      • btrbell profile image

        Randi Benlulu 

        4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

        Agreed!

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        4 years ago from Australia

        Many thanks - and the coffee at the airport definitely counts! You'll have to go back and try some of the house or specialty coffees (any excuse to go back to Italy).

      • btrbell profile image

        Randi Benlulu 

        4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

        Interesting article! The only coffee I have had in Italy was at the airport during a layover (does that count?!) Next time, I will hopefully stay longer and will appreciate your tips! Congratulations on HOTD!

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        4 years ago from Australia

        Coffee in Paris is different to Italy (there's nothing like having pain au chocolate avec un café crême). One day I'll get around to writing a hub about my different coffee experiences around the world… Thanks for taking the time to stop by and read my hub.

      • europewalker profile image

        europewalker 

        4 years ago

        Lovely hub and photos. I love coffee and had some very strong coffee while visiting Paris. I would love to visit Rome one day and taste the coffees there.

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        4 years ago from Australia

        Thank you to everyone who took the time to comment - I have been without the internet for the last week, so my apologies for the delay on replying. Drinking coffee is an art form in Italy. Like so much with travel, I try to bring the essence of a place back with me, and share with others. Enjoy, and thanks for visiting!

      • pstraubie48 profile image

        Patricia Scott 

        4 years ago from sunny Florida

        It is kind of odd that I am reading this now. I just had dinner at an authentic Italian place . the coffee was different and the portion was much smaller than we normally have in America.

        thanks for sharing the history and other info as well. I of course would love to have a coffee in Italy some day.

        Angels are on the way to you ps

      • poetryman6969 profile image

        poetryman6969 

        4 years ago

        I'll take my sin black with some cocoa and cinnamon sprinkled in!

      • fiona69 profile image

        Margaret Fiona 

        4 years ago from New York City, USA

        Different thinking and also a nice hub. Coffee is my favorite hot drink. Congrasulation to Hub of the day...... Regards

      • susi10 profile image

        Susan W 

        4 years ago from The British Isles, Europe

        Nice hub, Anne! I have learned a lot from this hub especially about the various kinds of coffees in Italy, I would love to visit Italy some day. I like your photos too, they really capture the atmosphere of Italy. Congrats on Hub Of The Day, well done!

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        4 years ago from New Delhi, India

        Having Coffee in the romantic and artistic Italy, is a beautiful experience! Have been there and your hub is like revisiting the amazing places.

        Wonderfully done with nice pictures! Congratulations for HOTD!

      • greatstuff profile image

        Mazlan 

        4 years ago from Malaysia

        It seems like in Italy, everything is art! Didn't realized how 'complicated' drinking coffee can be! Thanks for the useful tips and congrats on your HOTD. A good start to 2014, keep it up!

      • bluebird profile image

        bluebird 

        4 years ago

        Voted useful and interesting! Italy with all the sights and history and learning how they do coffee over there, very interesting indeed. A few shots and it's down. No sipping and visiting. Very different from America - it's more of a social thing here.

        Congrats and thanks for the pictures!

      • G Miah profile image

        Gous Ahmed 

        4 years ago from Muslim Nation

        Great article about coffee in Italy. I enjoyed reading every bit of it! Thanks!

      • Anne Harrison profile imageAUTHOR

        Anne Harrison 

        4 years ago from Australia

        As I've always maintained, life is too short for instant coffee! It's also different in every country - shall write about that soon,. Cheers, and thanks for stopping by

      • Robin Kommer profile image

        Robin Kommer 

        4 years ago from Australia

        so so Anne Harrison, that is the most expressive and detailed account of coffee I have ever explored. Obviously a coffee is not just a coffee but an experience into a world of its own. Well written and I like the layout

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