Your Guide to Coffee in Italy (What Not to Order)

Coffee is serious business in Italy.

The drink is ubiquitous, as easily found as wine. The winding streets are filled with cramped stores where patrons stand at the counter and enjoy the bitter drink and in most restaurants, there is a shiny espresso machine crammed somewhere behind the counter, waiting to make after lunch or diner espressos.

How it Works

Caffeinated drinks in Italy aren’t what Americans call coffee but instead, espresso. To find a place to order an espresso, look for a “bar,” not a café. If you want to a get an alcoholic drink, look for a “pub,” and for the best prices look for coffee bars that are not near main tourist sites.

Once you find a coffee bar, head for the register to pay first. And remember, a little Italian goes a long way: to order an espresso and croissant, try: vorrei un caffè e un cornetto. If that’s too much to remember, make liberal use of vorrei (I would like) and grazie (thank you). Now you can elbow your way to the counter and hand the barista your receipt. A quick grazie and your drink is in your hands.

Coffee Italy

What to Order

In Italy, there is a time limit to ordering milky coffee drinks. Giulio Piotti, a barista at Caffè Ricasoli, says that Italians only drink cappuccinos in the morning.

“If you wake up late, 11am, or if it’s Sunday, you can drink one [cappuccino],” Piotti says. Other than that, cappuccinos, café lattes, and any other coffee with milk is for breakfast only.

If you don’t want to go wrong, order “un caffè”. A caffè is an espresso shot. It is dark and bitter and served in a small cup on a saucer. The caffè shot is a quick interlude in an Italian’s daily life. Some hurried Italians down their caffè with one quick gulp. Most take two to three sips and move on to the next part of their day.

“It’s quick but you take the coffee with calm. Thirty seconds to a minute, but it’s calm.” Piotti says Italians stop into a bar and drink a caffè for a break meant to be a relaxing pause. Italians take these pauses throughout the day. Piotti drinks about five caffeinated drinks a day: two at breakfast, then one at lunch, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening.

In Florence if you want a to-go cup of cappuccino at noon, you can get one, but that’s not how the Italians drink their coffee. So pause, drink a café, and enjoy the brief calm.