How to Drink Coffee Like the Italians


A trip to Italy wouldn’t be complete without sampling some of their famous coffees. Italian coffee differs from what you expect to order in your local high street coffee shop. During many holidays to Italy, I’ve made several mistakes when ordering and enjoying my favourite beverage– I’ve been served hot milk, charged double the price I thought I would be, and have been frowned upon for ordering a cappuccino at dinner. Learn to drink coffee like Italy’s locals do with our how-to guide.


When looking for somewhere to grab a coffee in Italy, be aware that what we know as a cafe in the UK is called a bar in Italy. In most bars, you’ll find an actual bar, with no stools or seating available nearby. This is because Italians typically drink their coffee quickly– they’ll order a shot of espresso, drink it while standing at the bar, and be on their way. This may not be the most favourable way for you to enjoy your drink if you feel like your feet need a rest, so at some bars you’ll be able to sit with your drink, but keep in mind that your drink will cost more if you decide to sit– look for a list of prices under the heading “al tavolo” to see how much more.

No cappuccinos after midday

Locals don’t tend to order cappuccinos much longer after breakfast, as they think that the milk in it can upset digestion if ordered later in the day. As a rule of thumb, don’t order a cappuccino after 12pm, or you’ll get a confused look from the barista. And while we love a good coffee after our meal, the Italians will only go for espresso, and only after dessert has been consumed.

Barista Serving Making Coffee In Italian Shop

A latte isn’t what you think it is

Ordering a latte in Italy is not the same as ordering a latte back at home. If you ask for a latte at an Italian bar, you’ll be served a glass of hot milk– latte translates to milk in Italian.  If you’re hoping to get a latte like you’re used to back in the UK, order a latte macchiato.

Know your coffee

The Italians serve up many variations of coffee. Some of the most popular (and the ones you should try) include:

Caffè–  espresso, which is quite strong and is served in a tiny cup

Caffè doppio – double espresso

Caffè lungo – espresso diluted in hot water, making it weaker than a normal espresso. The name translates to  “long coffee”.

Cappuccino – espresso with hot, foamed milk.

Caffè macchiato – the equivalent of a latte in the UK, and translates to “stained coffee”

Caffè shakerato – coffee blended with ice,  similar to an iced coffee and perfect in the hot weather

Corretto – espresso with a shot of spirit

Caffè con panna –  espresso topped with whipped cream. This is the Italian version of our cappuccino.

Coffee and socializing

Getting a coffee is more of an act of getting an essential,  quick dose of caffeine than it is a social thing. While grabbing a coffee can mean you meeting friends for a lengthy catch up, coffee breaks in Italy are short. The social scene in Italy is based more around food and alcohol, during which Italians tend to chat for hours.

Have you tried any of Italy’s coffees? What other tips do you have for drinking coffee like the Italians?

Photo sources: Erick Gonzalez via Flickr, Petteri Sulonen via Flickr