Types of Italian coffee drinks
In Italy, coffee is not just a mere source of morning energy; it’s an intrinsic part of their culture. Italians have transformed coffee-making into an art form grounded in tradition and simplicity.
When coffee entered Europe, Italy took the front seat in coffee making. They poured years of craftsmanship into it and reaped their authentic, unique blends.
In Italy, coffee shops are called bars. Most Italians go to bars to drink coffee and not alcoholics. Many traditional bars pass down for generations within families. You see, locals hold authenticity in high regard. And they prefer good old Italian coffee over a coffee chain coffee. That is why it is no surprise that international coffee chains have struggled to succeed in Italy.
Moreover, Italian coffee has gained worldwide recognition and admiration for its smooth and velvety flavors in various coffee blends.
So, read this post to familiarize yourself with Italian coffee’s nuances. Here, you can uncover the customs and guidelines of Italian coffee culture. Do you have questions about what, when, and how to order? Read this ultimate guide to savoring coffee like a bona fide local.
Italian Coffee Culture Rules
Coffee has its own set of laws. These laws distinguish locals from outsiders. Of course, you can follow your own fancy, but I prefer to adhere to the local traditions.
- As we mentioned in the intro, in Italy, a coffee shop, or what we know as a café, is called a “bar.” These are predominantly family-owned businesses with no names and just “BAR” signs out front.
- At most bars, you need to pay first. So, make sure to keep your receipt.
- In bars, there are two prices: the al tavolo price for coffee served at a table and the al banco price for coffee served at the counter.
- Italians take no more than five minutes to drink their coffee, sipping it while standing up at the counter before setting off to conquer the day. If you want to save some Euros, have your coffee like a local.
- In Italy, there are no size options for your coffee; you simply get what you get. And with your coffee comes a complimentary glass of water. If the barista doesn’t provide it automatically, don’t hesitate to ask, saying, “Posso avere un bicchere d’aqua, per favore?” (Can I have a glass of water, please?).
Different Types Of Italian Coffee Drinks
1. Caffè (Espresso, Caffè Normale)
How to say it: kahf-FEH
When to drink it: A caffè is drunk at all times of the day
In Italy, the term “caffè” does not solely refer to coffee; it is also how Italians order an espresso, the most popular type of coffee. Espresso is designed to be consumed hastily, as a single dose of caffeine to power you through your day.
If you want to avoid being identified as a tourist in Italy, don’t ask for an espresso. Instead, simply request “un caffè” from the cashier. You may choose to have it sweetened or unsweetened, according to your preference.
2. Caffè Ristretto (Or Caffè Stretto)
How to say it: ree-STREHT-to
When to drink it: A caffè ristretto is drunk at all times of the day
Ristretto is a short or ”restrained” espresso. It contains less water and thus boasts a potent flavor that certainly awakens your taste buds.
Ristretto is the perfect choice when time is scarce, as it requires only one sip, unlike caffè, which requires about three to four. It’s no wonder it’s called ristretto, meaning “restricted.”
3. Caffè Lungo
How to say it: LOON-goh
When to drink it: A caffè lungo is drunk at all times of the day
Lungo is Italian for “long,” and it is another variety of espresso. Unlike the ristretto, which contains less water, lungo has more water. The barista can adjust the amount of water added to the blend to accommodate your preferences. This variation is ideal for those who enjoy the taste of Italian espresso but prefer a milder flavor.
Whether you prefer your Lungo with or without sugar, it bridges the gap between a caffè (espresso) and the traditional filtered coffee of Anglo-American culture.
How to say it: Kahp-poo-CHEE-noh
When to drink it: Before 11 am. Italian never drink cappuccino after 11 am.
In Italy, the second most popular coffee drink is the cappuccino. It’s made in thirds — 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foam. All blended together to create a smooth and creamy texture. The milk must be steamed to a glassy and shiny consistency, with no visible bubbles. The origins of name come from the brown color of Capuchin Monk robes. But what’s more important are the rules. Italians consider it a breakfast coffee, never to be consumed after 11 am. Why, you may ask? It’s all about digestion. Milk after a meal can hinder digestion, so it’s best to stick with an espresso. So, if you want to avoid the tourist label, make sure to check the time and order accordingly: “un cappuccino, per favore!”
5. Caffè Marocchino (Espressino)
How to say it: Mah-rohk-KEE-noh
In Italy’s southern reaches, they call it espressino, but to most, it’s known as caffè marocchino, or “the little Moroccan.” Its story is as rich and layered as the drink itself.
The tale goes back to the aftermath of World War II and the town of Alessandria, in Piedmont, where a bar named Carpano sat near a hat factory called Borsalino. The fedoras made there were popularised by Hollywood actors like Humphrey Bogart.
It was the leather strip that lined the inside of each Borsalino hat that gave the drink its name. Baristas at Carpano created the caffè marocchino and topped it with a sprinkle of cocoa that matched the leather strip’s hue.
The drink is a delightful mix of espresso, cocoa, and a hint of foamed milk, with additional layers of cocoa and even Nutella lining the glass. A true Italian indulgence to be savored in the morning or as a rare afternoon treat.
How to say it: Mah-kee-YAH-toh
When to drink it: In the morning or as an afternoon energy boost, but not after a meal.
The macchiato, a harmonious blend of caffè and cappuccino, owes its name to the droplets of hot milk that spot the dark espresso like a leopard’s coat. This coffee blend is ideal for those who find a cappuccino’s milk content excessive or an espresso’s intensity too potent. Romans, in particular, have a fondness for this beverage. However, it is not an appropriate choice after lunch or dinner, as milk hinders digestion. Therefore, it is a morning or occasional afternoon indulgence. To order, simply request “Un macchiato, per favore!” and enjoy the perfect balance of flavor.
7. Caffè Shakerato
How to say it: shay-keh-RAH-toh
When to drink it: In the warmer months, from May to October.
Shakerato means shaken up. So, the Shakerato is a simple yet effective Italian concoction, made by shaking a shot of espresso with sugar and ice. The result is not just a sweet and refreshing beverage, but one with a transformed texture: smooth as velvet and crowned with a creamy foam. The vigorous shaking infuses the coffee with air, creating fine bubbles that add lightness and lift to each sip. And the generous dose of sugar lends a hand, thickening the coffee’s consistency and making it all the more enjoyable.
8. Crema Di Caffè
How to say it: KRAY-ma dee kahf-FEH
When to drink it: In the warmer months, from May to October.
In Italy, it would be impossible not having Crema Di Caffè. It’s the result of an equation: hot Italy + love of coffee + love of ice cream = crema di caffè. Some even call it gelato coffee. The name is fitting. It truly is a coffee cream, a perfectly churned mixture of espresso, sugar, and cream. It’s perfect for the hot season, from May to October.
The Story of Italian Coffee
Coffee in Italy has a storied past, with a definitive moment that marked its arrival. In 1570, Prospero Alpino of Padua brought some sacks of precious beans from the East to Venice. At first, it was sold only in pharmacies due to its high cost, and its allure soon spread among the wealthier classes.
Despite its exclusivity, coffee continued to gain popularity, and by 1763 there were as many as 218 coffee shops in Venice. During this time, coffee evolved into the drink that epitomized the Italian spirit of camaraderie and family values, synonymous nowadays with Italianness. Its evolution marked a significant moment in Italian culture, one that remains to this day.
Coffee in Italy today
“Having a coffee” in Italy is not just about drinking a beverage. It’s about the experience of sharing a moment with others, enjoying small moments of serenity in a fast-paced world.
Today, coffee can be found in every region of Italy, with each place adding its own unique flavor to the mix. Whether sweet or bitter, coffee is a product that is never missing in Italian homes. It’s a tradition that passes down from generation to generation, accompanying families through the most important moments of their lives.
If you’re a fan of Italian cuisine and culture, I invite you to read on and click here to discover more about the rich and diverse food traditions in Italy.