Guide to Italian Coffee

There’s nothing more appetizing than a perfectly warm and sufficiently sized authentic Italian coffee that is rich in flavor and heavily satisfying. When in Rome, or anywhere in Italy for that matter, do as the Italians do, and do it the right way. In our world, we are numb to the taste of pure coffee, due to the destructive influence of big name companies like Starbucks that brand an image alongside their product. We perceive coffee as a means of expressing individuality; for example, if we like our latte to be venti, or skinny, or with a shot of caramel, shows to society who we are, rather than just appreciating the taste of coffee for what it is. Today’s society has lost the true meaning of what coffee should taste like, so to regain that heritage which was once so prominent, we have compiled the ultimate guide to Italian coffee drinking.

Italian Coffee; Lost in translation

If you find yourself in a rich Italian coffee shop and fancy a hot milky beverage, you’ll be frankly unpleasantly surprised when you order a ‘Latte’ and receive a glass of milk. Instead, if you crave what we consider a ‘latte,’ ensure that you request a Latte Macchiato, which translates to ‘marked milk,’ the ‘mark’ being the minute amount of coffee hidden in the fat milk. If you want something a little stronger in coffee but still fairly milky, ask the server for Latte Macchiato Scuro, which is just ‘darker.’ The same goes for Espresso Macchiato, either a single or double shot of coffee topped with just an inkling of creamy milk; an adamant and tiny cappuccino. The most common misconception is that a Macchiato is a giant fluffy bowl of caramel created by Starbucks to plagiarize a real drink with large amounts of rich flavor and depth. If you described this to an Italian server or barista, you would surely be shown the door – Arrivederci!


Drinking coffee in a bar

Italians drink coffee standing at the bar, which is a similar structure to a regular bar but instead of alcohol, it serves gorgeous little coffees. Meet charming locals knocking back espressos at the counter in a matter of minutes, instead of wasting time. We are used to seeing individuals and groups of friends lounging around in Starbucks all day, consciously projecting their hipster image for everyone to see, whilst hunched over their MacBook and various other Apple products. Even the McDonald’s in Central Italian cities have an air of class surrounding them, equipped with proper barista machines and locals enjoying a latte macchiato accompanied by a bite to eat. Rule of thumb, a lot of coffee bars in Italy charge you more if you take your drink to a seat, so unless you see others doing it, it’s probably best to just stand at the bar and it knock back.


Coffee Culture in Italy

Although coffee is grown in other parts of the world such as Columbia, it is ingrained deeply in the country’s culture and image. Italy imports over 8 million bags of coffee every year to satisfy their cravings and to fund the many coffee shops scattered over towns and cities. The first coffee shop in Italy opened in San Marco square in Venice in the year 1683, much to the disgust of the church. The Catholic Church referred to coffee as the ‘Devil’s drink’ due to its intense, rich flavors.

In today’s world, Italians drink coffee in almost a formal way, throwing back sly double espressos at multiple times of the day. The invention of the ‘Mocha Pot’ revolutionized the way Italians drink and prepare their coffee; it was created in 1933 by Alfonso Bialetti and is equivalent to Italian homes as the kettle is to Brits. Over the years its design has never changed which gives it a truly authentic feel.

Coffee is so much a part of Italian culture that the idea of not drinking it is unheard of.

Change the way you drink coffee today by understanding how it should be drunk. Seek out independent coffee stores nearby if you’re not in Italy itself, and discover a whole new world of coffee flavors that is segregated from big name brands. Here is a list of some irresistible Italian style coffee shops that could be near you, waiting to be discovered!

London – Bar Italia! ->
New York – Zibetto Espresso! ->
San Diego – Caffe Italia! ->
Rome – Tazza D’Oro Coffee Shop ->

15 Types of Italian Coffee

Just as the dishes, Italian coffees are also diverse. One can get seriously lost when going to an Italian café. If you only say to the clerk one cup of coffee, please they’re going to look at you with confusion. To make it easier for you to order, we list 15 types of Italian coffee. There are more out there, of course. You don’t have to know all of them, though. Keep a perfect balance – enough to cause a surprised smile on an Italian barista’s face while you impress him/her with your knowledge, but not too much, so that you can also ask them questions about their specialty.

1. Espresso

Espresso is the most common of all Italian coffee drinks. It’s a small (20 to 25ml) shot of strong coffee served in a tiny cup. Since it’s the most basic form, in menus espresso is often listed as caffè. To order one, you can just say un caffè.


2. Doppio

Doppio is espresso for heavy drinkers. It’s a double espresso – two regular servings in one cup. Perfect if you need an intense waking up session.

Doppio Espresso

3. Cappuccino

Cappuccino is famous and loved nearly everywhere. It’s known worldwide, and very familiar, so many have even forgotten it’s an Italian export. Nevertheless – it is, and no matter how fantastic cappuccinos you’ve already drunk, you must try one when visiting Italy. It typically consists of 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 foam. Since it’s quite heavy as for a drink, Italian usually don’t drink it after a meal as they do with espresso. You can do it through if you enjoy having a dessert-like coffee after lunch. It’s worth knowing that cappuccino comes in many variations. In addition to the classical one, you can also order for example cappuccino scuro (a bit darker version with less milk) or cappuccino Chiaro (lighter, with more milk).


4. Ristretto

Ristretto consists of the same amount of ground coffee as espresso, but half of the usual amount of water. The flavor is more concentrated and stronger. Ristretto can also be called caffè stretto.

caffe stretto

5. Macchiato

If espresso is a bit too strong for you, or you simply prefer coffee with milk than black, a macchiato is a good option. It were an espresso but softened with one or to drops of hot milk. You can also ask for macchiato caldo, and you’ll get it with steamed milk, or for macchiato freddo, so that cold milk will be added instead of warm. If you like coffee to be a bit foamy, order a macchiato con schiuma di latte – this variation contains froth milk.

espresso machiato

6. Marocchino

Created in Alessandria, Marocchino is an ideal solution for those who have a sweet tooth and don’t particularly enjoy the bitter taste of Italian coffee, but at the same like to get a caffeine kick once in a while. Marocchino is made of a shot of espresso, cocoa powder and foamed milk.

Caffe Marocchino

Photo: Flickr

7. Espressino

Espressino sometimes gets confused with marocchino, but it’s not the same. In addition to a coffee shot, cocoa, and milk, it often contains Nutella or ice-cream. Besides, the composition differs – espressino has the sweet ingredients both on the bottom and the top of the glass.


8. Latte

Okay, here’s an important tip: don’t order a latte in Italy. It only means milk and that’s exactly what you’ll get if you ask for it. While baristas of many countries will get your point and serve coffee with milk, in Italy, most likely, you’ll get exactly what you’ve asked for.  If you want this milk with a shot of coffee, you must order caffè latte. It’s a yummy drink, but for those who like their coffee milky, since it contains only 1/3 coffee and 2/3 warm milk plus a little bit of foam.

Caffe Latte

9. Lungo

Lungo translates to long, and the name’s not accidental. Caffè lungo is made with a double amount of water (compared to espresso), so its flavor is not as intense. Don’t confuse it with caffè americano – in lungo, all the water is brewed, while in Americano water is added to an instant espresso.

Coffee Lungo

10. Freddo

Freddo means cold, so as you can figure out, it’s a coffee served cool. The word freddo by itself is usually used for describing a simple cold espresso. It’s either made right when you order it and served rather lukewarm, or prepared before and kept in the refrigerator before serving, which makes it freezing.

caffe freddo

11. Hag

If you like the flavor of coffee, but don’t want or can’t drink beverages with caffeine, you should remember the term hag. Known also as un deca, the hag is a decaf coffee. You can get an espresso hag, cappuccino hag, lungo hag, etc.

12. Panna

Panna isn’t a type of coffee, but merely cream that you might want to be added to your beverage or not. If you ask for caffè con Panna, you’ll get a shot of espresso with a bit of cream on the top.

caffe con Panna

13. Orzo

Caffè d’orzo is a caffeine-free drink made of ground barley. Its flavor reminds espresso, but it’s a bit more delicate and somewhat earthly. Caffè d’orzo is a great alternative for those who stay away from caffeine.

Caffe d orzo

14. Ginseng

Caffè al Ginseng is an espresso made with ginseng. Besides of adding a bit of a nutty flavor, ginseng is supposed to make you more energetic and focused. Many say its taste is similar to Chai Tea Latte widely known in the United States.

Caffe al Ginseng

15. Corretto

Corretto takes Italian coffee to another level. It’s a shot of espresso mixed with a bit of alcohol. Brandy, Grappa, and sambuca are used most often, but you can ask for something else if you fancy so. To order it, you should say un caffè corretto alla grappa and just change the last word depending on what liquor you prefer. Interestingly, corretto in Italian means correct, which seems to imply only coffee with liquor is the right one. Well, we’ll leave it for you to judge!

caffe correttoDo you have your favorite Italian coffee? Let us know! And don’t forget to share this article with your friends, especially if they’re Italian coffee-lovers!


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