One of the most beautiful and exciting countries you will ever visit is Italy. Everywhere from the Tuscan villages to the canals of Venice are breathtaking to experience for the first time. There are dozens of destinations you will want to visit and many shops and restaurants that you’ll want to stop in to at least once. On top of that, Italy is a country known for its coffee culture, so you are likely to enjoy some of the best espresso you’ve ever had in your life while you are in the country. But before you set out on a trip to this luxurious country, there are some things you will need to know.
Today, we are going to look at the coffee culture in Italy, including the best places to visit to enjoy fantastic coffee drinks, the proper etiquette in Italian coffee shops, and much more. We’ll even look at a few of the most famous coffeehouse destinations in the major cities of Italy so you know where to stop and take a break during your trip. For those of you who aren’t planning a trip to Italy, don’t worry. There are several great brands of Italian coffee that you can access right from home.
Types of Coffee Drinks Common in Italy
There are dozens of coffee drinks that you will find on the menu in Italian coffeehouses. We’re not going to look at all of them but having an idea of your options will make getting a great coffee a simpler proposition on your trip. We’ll start out with the simplest and most prevalent option and work our way up to the most complicated brews.
Caffe and Variants
When you ask for a caffe at an Italian coffee bar, you’re essentially asking for the simplest coffee on the menu. This isn’t your traditional American cup of joe, however. This is a much stronger espresso drink. Your waiter may ask whether you want it normal or with additions, but for a simple coffee, stick to the normal option and enjoy that sweet caffeine.
Want a double? Ask for a caffe doppio which is twice the espresso in a single cup.
There is also a drink known as the caffe ristretto which is a tiny drink consisting of concentrated espresso. It has an extremely strong taste, but the caffeine content is fairly low.
Want a decaf coffee? This is the beverage you will want to ask for. This is often consumed after dinner or later in the evening when the boost of caffeine isn’t required. You can order this by asking for ‘un deca’ or ‘un decaffeinato.’
This beverage is an espresso, but more water is drained than normal. This results in a stronger dose of caffeine. You’ll find this quite often in Italian coffee bars, perhaps more than you will a traditional espresso depending on where you visit.
Caffe Macchiato Caldo & Freddo
If you appreciate your coffee with some milk or creamer, these two options might be your favorite while in Italy. A caffe macchiato caldo is a normal espresso but has a bit of warm milk added into it for extra smoothness and creaminess. The caffe macchiato freddo has some cold milk, instead.
This is a caffe lungo, but it comes in a large cup and includes a decent amount of frothed milk. It’s a bit of a mixture between a cappuccino and a macchiato.
The caffe corretto is an espresso drink that also contains a small amount of hard liquor. You can choose what sort of liquor you prefer to be included. There is also another version of this called the rasentin. With this drink, you drink the espresso until it is mostly empty and then add a bit of alcohol before finishing it off.
A cappuccino is an espresso which includes frothed milk. It is served in a large cup and often includes a bit of cocoa on top. This is also a common drink in the United States, but in Italy, it is primarily consumed during the morning or at breakfast. It’s typically served with sweet foods. Italians may find it strange if you order this drink at lunch or beyond, especially with a savory dish.
Another variation of this is the mocaccino which is a cappuccino that contains ab it of cream and hot chocolate. It is often served in a transparent cup.
Yet another option is the marocchino which includes coffee, milk foam, and dark chocolate powder.
If you are familiar with the latte, this is the Italian version of the same thing. It’s an espresso mixed with a decent amount of warm milk. Most people drink this at their own home and use it to dip biscuits in.
The latte macchiato is a larger drink that is mostly warm milk with a shot of espresso poured on top of it.
This drink is best on hot days and is yet another espresso beverage. The drink is shaken with ice to offer a refreshing, chilly drink for a summer day.
Other Coffees in Italy
If you want extra energy in a healthy form, this might be the drink for you. It contains coffee, ginseng extract, and milk cream. You order this as a ‘caffe al ginseng.’
The caffe d’orzo is a barley coffee. Keep in mind that it does not taste like coffee nor does it contain any caffeine.
Finally, there is the caffe pedrocchi which is coffee that contains cocoa powder and a mint flavored cream.
Look Like a Local at the Neighborhood Coffee Bar
Everything about coffee has some kind of roots in Italy. The Italians have invented many of the world’s most popular coffee beverages like the latte, cappuccino, and macchiato. They also are responsible fore creating the first steam-driven espresso machine. As such, there is a certain culture around coffee in Italy. Many people in the country consider coffee a serious subject and don’t appreciate the attempts to adapt traditional drinks from Italy into things like frappuccinos and milkshakes.
If you are looking to fit in with the masses in the coffee bars in Italy, there are a few rules you will want to follow. Keep in mind that many of the coffee establishments in the country are extremely traditional and there is a lack of international chains. There are even cafes that date all the way back to the 18th century, such as The Caffe Fiorio in Turin and Gran Caffe Renzelli in Cosenza.
Rules While Ordering Coffee in Italy
There are a few things to keep in mind while ordering coffee in Italy. The first is that most coffee orders in Italy involve only a word or two. You aren’t going to get anywhere ordering a complicated drink with tons of additions and changes. The word ‘caffe’ will get you a shot of espresso, ‘americano’ will get you espresso with hot water, etc. Another popular choice is the cappuccino which comes with warm frothed milk and a sprinkle of chocolate.
Another thing that will be strange for visitors to Italy is the fact that most coffee beverages come in a single size. Asking for a large or medium is going to confuse your barista or lead them to judge you. In addition, you will likely not find low-fat milk in most coffee establishments. Remember that in Italy, ‘latte’ means milk and ordering that will result in a glass of the same. The caffe latte is a large glass of milk with a small amount of coffee in it.
You may also be used to the idea of rushing into a Starbucks and grabbing a drink to go, which is often not possible at Italian coffeehouses. Instead, you will be expected to hang out at the bar or a table to enjoy your coffee. (Keep in mind that grabbing a table will cost more.) Coffee breaks in Italy are called ‘una pausa,’ which means ‘a pause.’ It’s a time to take a moment and enjoy the day. Grab a pastry and enjoy both that and your coffee while you chat with those around you before taking off for your next destination.
In Italy, you’ll find that most cappuccinos are ordered early in the day, which is the same for any coffee beverage that contains a dose of milk. While ordering one of these after noon isn’t going to cause you any trouble, you might expect to get strange looks from the patrons and barista.
Other Things to Know About Italian Coffee
One of the reasons Italy is famous for their coffee beverages is because the quality is unsurpassed. It doesn’t matter if you’re grabbing a cup of coffee at a train station or stopping at a gourmet coffeehouse, you are going to get a fantastic cup of coffee. It’s what is expected and it’s exactly what you will get, barring anything strange happening.
However, you are likely not to find crazy latte art or fruity taste notes in your Italian coffee. There are few foreign chains and only a small amount of hipster coffee bars. Rather than focusing on small details like this, what is focused on is speed. You’ll be amazed when you see how fast baristas can cut through a crowd during a morning rush.
While most beverages are quite simple, there are a few variations you can find in Italy. Most of them are regional in nature. For instance, there is the caffe corretto which contains a shot of liquor, the doppio which is a double espresso, and the cappuccino scuro which has less milk than the traditional drink.
The Difference Between a Café and a Bar
There are two words in Italian that mean essentially the same thing as café does in English. Both ‘il bar’ and ‘il caffe’ are used to refer to an establishment like a café. In this case, a café is somewhere you can get both coffee beverages and alcoholic drinks, as well. That means that where you get a cappuccino or a macchiato, you can also purchase things like cocktails, beer, and wine. Many Italians use the words café and bar to mean the same thing. However, some of these places have a bigger focus of coffee, sandwiches, and pastries, while others might focus more on savory snacks and alcoholic beverages.
Time of Day When Italians Visit Bars
There isn’t a single time of day when Italians visit a café or bar, it happens from morning until night. Some might stop in before going to dinner or a club. Others might go after dinner or dancing as a way to relax before heading home. During the day, many Italians visit the bar to meet friends or chat with neighbors about what’s going on in the area. It’s a fantastic place to visit to read a newspaper or magazine while drinking your coffee and catching up on the news. Some also visit to hang out with a book, although this is less common than in the United States.
The coffee cups are smaller in Italy, but Italians take longer to savor it. This is probably part of why there are no to-go options at Italian coffee bars.
Food Items Served at Coffee Bars in Italy
While there are some bars that offer full meals, this is fairly uncommon in Italy. Instead, you can expect to see strong drinks, coffee, sandwiches, and pastries. Cafes are where you go to enjoy breakfast in Italy although the selection of items to consume are smaller than you might be used to. A typical meal would be cappuccino and Italian croissants filled with hazelnut spread or custard.
The actual items served at cafes will vary based on what region of Italy you are in. Southern cities might offer coffee and pastries filled with chocolate, rum, or ricotta. In the Northern part of Italy, you’ll find that pastries are mostly found in pastry shops with coffee bars only offering coffee, sandwiches, and additional beverages.
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General Tips for First Time Visitors to Italy
In addition to the great coffee, there is a ton to see and do while you are in Italy. Having a few tips to get started can help ensure you have the best possible trip. This will help you with planning your trip as well as making choices once your plane lands in Europe.
Where to Visit for a First Time Excursion
Many people make the mistake of trying to see every attraction while in Italy. It can be tempting to check off all the things you want to experience, but it’s not the best way to enjoy the country. Instead, try to keep with a relaxed pace and enjoy each destination for what it is. Assuming you will be staying for a couple of weeks, it’s best not to stop in more than three or four places. You’ll be spending time in transit, dealing with jet lag, and more. Taking time to take in each location will make the vacation more enjoyable and give you some down time to focus on your own needs.
Deciding Whether to Rent a Vehicle
A common concern among those who travel to Italy is whether or not to rent a vehicle. While you are welcome to do so, be aware that driving in Italian cities can be fairly challenging. Most people will be better off to use the train system rather than worrying about getting a vehicle. However, there is an exception. If you are going to visit rural areas of Italy, you may need a vehicle. These areas have far less public transportation available, so you need a vehicle to explore. Thankfully, these areas also have less challenging driving so that will be less of a concern.
Validate Your Train Tickets
Whether you choose to rent a car or not, it’s likely you will end up on a train at some point during your trip. Many people aren’t aware that when you take the train in Italy, there are two steps involved. The first step is simply buying the train ticket and the second is validating that ticket. Just having a ticket doesn’t mean you are ready to board up on a train and set off. Before you board any train, you’ll need to take your ticket and insert it into a validation machine at the train station. This marks the ticket with the day and time, so the ticket cannot be used more than once. If you forget to do this, the ticket inspector is likely to notice, and you’ll end up fined.
Make Sure Your Hotel Has Air Conditioning
While you don’t necessarily need to worry about finding a room with air conditioning in the cooler seasons, it’s a must if you are visiting in the summer. It can get seriously warm through the entire country. While most United States hotels have air conditioning, that isn’t the case in Italy. You will need to verify that it is available, or you might end up sweltering in your room. Just take a moment to look at the information for a hotel and verify you have air conditioning before you book the first room that fits your needs.
Bring Along a Power Adapter
In Italy or anywhere else in Europe, you’re going to want to bring along a power adapter. While you can purchase one in Italy, it’s often easier and less stress-inducing to pack one and bring it with you. You can usually get a handful of adapters for only a few dollars, so there’s no reason to put this off. You may not think this is a serious need, but you’re likely to change your mind when you need to plug in your laptop or other electronic devices. Bring at least one, you’ll be seriously glad you did.
Watch Out for Pickpockets
One of the areas with the most significant amount of pickpocket activity is the train station. This is especially true in crowded stations with lots of tourists. In many cases, these pickpockets are going to be working as a team of two. One person will be in charge of distracting you while the other tries to get ahold of your wallet. This is something to be aware of if only to ensure you are cautious and vigilante when out and about among many other people. Wear a money belt, pay attention to your surroundings, and show some confidence and you’ll be just fine.
Be Aware of the Consequences of Siesta on Travel Time
If you aren’t aware of siesta, it is a few hours in the early afternoon when Italians head to their homes to rest. You want to keep this time in mind when you consider your schedule while visiting Italy. There are many shops, churches, and even museums that are closed for a few hours in the afternoon to take advantage of siesta. You can expect this to happen sometime between around one and four pm. If you have specific sights you want to see, visit their websites online to see if there are closings during the day that you will need to work around.
Wine Can Be More Budget Friendly Than Water
Italy is not only known for coffee, it’s also known for its fantastic wine. In many cases, ordering wine is less expensive than ordering sparkling water. A quartino of a wine is only going to run a couple of euro. The quartino is 250 ml of wine, which is served to you in a small carafe. It’s about the same size as a glass and a half of wine, which is often the perfect amount for a dinner. Of course, you can get tap water or traditional bottled water which is less expensive, but wine in Italy is worth trying once or twice on your trip.
Understanding the Coperto Charge
When you’re enjoying dinner at an Italian restaurant, you may be surprised to find there is a charge marked as ‘coperto.’ This translates to ‘cover charge’ and is a fee that is charged to sit down at a table and enjoy a meal. It is only a couple of euro per person in most cases, but this can vary by destination. You should be prepared to see this charge on your bill. It is not the same as a tip. Tipping is done in Italy, but it typically consists of simply rounding up your bill or adding a few extra euro on top of the total.
Be Prepared to Carry Your Bags
There are escalators and elevators nearly everywhere in the United States, but this is not the case in Italy. Nearly everyone is going to have only stairs. This might not seem like a huge deal but it’s something to consider while you are packing your luggage. You want to have luggage that you can lift on your own easily. This will also come in handy when you need to take trains, which makes quick stops. You have to be ready to grab your bags and get off the train quickly. If your suitcase weighs too much, this can be a huge problem.
Where to Find the Best Coffee in Italy
While there is fantastic coffee all over Italy, some bars are better than others. We’ve compiled a list of a few of the best coffee destinations out there, so you can make sure to stop in and get your caffeine fix, no matter where you’re visiting. These shops are scattered across the country and each has its own quirks. Take a look and see which resonate with you and add them to your list of places to visit while abroad.
Filter Coffee Lab
This coffee house is located in Pisa and is something of a cross between an American coffeehouse and an Italian one. It has both modern and rustic features which combine to make a warm atmosphere that you’ll appreciate as soon as you step inside. You can get all sorts of coffee here, of course, severed in British paper cups. However, there are also many delicious muffins, cakes, and pastries that you can purchase to enjoy with your coffee. If you happen to stop in on a Sunday, there is a weekly brunch. You can expect everything from fresh banana bread to French toast, club sandwiches, and avocado toast.
This little café is located in Rome inside of a vintage tram carriage. It exists as a late-night drinking spot and a trendy coffee shop in the same location. There are numerous coffee options along with juices, smoothies, cocktails, sandwiches, and pastries. The café is a bit small so roasting is not done in house but at the Torrefazione Lady Café near Parma. It’s a quaint shop that is unique from anywhere else you’ll have the change to experience in Italy.
Orso Laboratorio Caffe
This coffeehouse is located in Turin and exists to offer a true experience with your coffee. Every cup of coffee is served in a cup with a number at the bottom. You can enjoy Neapolitan coffee, Moka coffee, espresso drinks, infusion coffee, Aeropress brews, and much more. Basically any sort of coffee you could imagine is available at Orso, from the most traditional to the truly cutting edge. This location even offers classes and tasting courses, so you can learn a bit more about coffee rather than simply indulging in a cup. It’s an experience that you won’t find elsewhere and well worth the trip if you happen to be in the area.
Faro Luminari del Caffe
This shop bills itself as the first specialty coffee shop in Rome and is not like the traditional Italian coffee bar. Patrons are welcome to hang out and enjoy their coffee at a leisurely pace while staff share information about the coffee and how it was produced. The roasting here is light to avoid bitter notes, which makes adding sugar unnecessary. There are multiple brewing methods to choose from including Aeropress, syphon, and espresso, and both house blends and specialty coffees line the large menu.
This coffee location has been around since the 1930s and they offer a signature blend that uses at least eight different types of coffee. This is a very traditional style Venetian café where you can expect to pay very little for a cup of espresso. IN addition to the house signature, there are nearly a dozen more blends for you to choose from. When you step inside, you’ll find rustic charm in the form of wooden interior items and woven sacks. There are also little coffee beans strewn about the place to tempt your nose and palate.
Local is a little different from the other places on the list and even includes a small grocery selection. It’s known for offering Ethiopian coffee and is considered a versatile café that also tends to be quite exclusive. The founder of the place is Carlo Petrini, who is also known for his Slow Food movement. The café is meant to blend trend and sophistication in a space that also introduces food for its patrons. It’s located in Bra and is a great spot to stop in to at least once.
Artlife Caffe Penazzi
This café is known most of all for it’s amazing coffee. However, it’s also known for the high-quality products used to make what many consider the Best Coffee of Ferrara. Only Arabica coffee is used, with options for both blends and single origin coffee. The café works to provide authentic, quality coffee and has won awards for that in the process. The café itself has an old-time flair and is a lot of fun to spend time in. You’ll find old coffee makers and merchandise on shelves across the store to peruse while you wait for what might be the perfect cup of espresso.
Bugan Coffee Lab
The Bugan Coffee Lab is more than a bar. It’s also a place where coffee is roasted, classes are provided, and the culture of coffee is provided with those from far and wide. The owner, Maurizio Valli, claims this is the first coffee lab in Italy and competing in national competitions is part of that game plan. Beyond offering great coffee, Bugan also offers a shop that sells barista equipment, coffee beans, and ground coffee. They also have a ‘Coffee Academy’ for baristas to learn new and modern skills. Make sure to stop in if you make a trip into Bergamo.
Coffee Box can be found in Riccione and it is unique from all of the other shops we’ve mentioned thus far. It’s a colorful location where you’ll find high-quality coffee served with vigor. This isn’t a place for a boring espresso, instead you can enjoy artistic designs on your favorite coffee beverage. Everything has a sense of whimsey and the variety is outstanding. While traditional drinks may be the norm in most of Italy, Coffee Box does things differently. It’s a great location to enjoy a little inspiration and creativity while vacationing.
It would not be accurate to call Taglio in Milan a simple coffee bar, because it is anything but that. Taglio is a restaurant with a rotating menu with delicious entrees like artisanal spaghetti and lasagna bolognese on offer. It’s much less busy if you stop in for lunch, as dinner can be cramped and you may never get a table. However, beyond the great food, Taglio also offers a large assortment of fantastic coffee beverages. The staff is friendly and the interior is aesthetically appealing. There are also wines and ingredients for sale. There is somewhere everyone who visits Milan should visit once or more.
Caffe Canova Tadolini
This café was originally the studio and workshop of sculptor Antonio Canova but not exists as a restaurant and museum. You can check out marble statues, vintage photographs, and old newspaper clippings while sitting at elegant tables to enjoy your favorite food and beverage. Anyone looking to save cash should opt for bar service, as table service is quite expensive. However, if you want to enjoy the full atmosphere, a table is the better choice. Either way you go, it will be an experience you will never forget.
Located smack dab in the middle of Rome is the Roscioli Caffe. This is a full restaurant, as well, with everything from burgers to pizza, pasta, salad, and more. There are great coffees available along with a huge menu of alcoholic drinks like the old fashioned, negroni, Moscow mule, bloody Mary, and martini. The coffer is made in a double method which mixed the Neapolitan system with a volumetric one. It’s a shining gem among the many coffee options you have in this grand city.
In Florence, the place to visit is Ditta Artigianale which offers a coffee of the day each and every day. This isn’t a problem since the café has a huge selection to choose from. You can enjoy everything from filtered coffee to classic espresso and even cold brew coffee. The atmosphere of the location is regal and elegant, which makes it a fun place to visit on your trip. The coffee used at this location is single origin with selections from all around the world.
Whether you’re heading to Italy soon, planning for a trip far in the future, or just interested in learning more about Italy coffee culture, you should be set. You now know what to expect from a café and a bar in Italy, what the most popular drinks are, when people tend to drink coffee, and where to get the best coffee in the country. There are so many great places around the globe for coffee, but Italy is largely considered one of the best. Any coffee lover should visit at some point in their life. Good luck!
1. How do I order coffee in Italy?
In Italy, the default coffee an espresso of a macchiato. Morning brews often consist of the café latte or cappuccino. In most cases, your coffee will come with a glass of water on the side.
2. Is Italy famous for coffee?
Italy is definitely famous for coffee and coffee makes up a huge part of the country’s culture. The invention of the espresso machine is what really put Italy on the map in terms of coffee.
3. Why do Italians drink water with coffee?
The water served with your coffee is intended to help cleanse your palate before and after taking a sip of espresso.
4. Does coffee grow in Italy?
While some individuals choose to grow coffee at home, there are no coffee farms or other large sources of coffee being grown in the country.
5. Do Italians put sugar in their coffee?
Many Italians add sugar to their coffee, often in large quantities. This is because the coffee can be quite bitter in some forms.
6. Where does Italy import coffee from?
Most of the coffee imported by Italy comes from Vietnam and Brazil, but some also comes in from Congo, Dominican Republic, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Uganda, and Indonesia.
7. How much is coffee in Rome?
You can expect to spend about €1 for an espresso at a coffee bar, but at a table, it may be closer to €3 or €4 instead.
8. What do Italians drink before dinner?
Before dinner or lunch, most Italians enjoy a light alcoholic beverage like a sparkling white wine. Slightly bitter drinks may also be consumed to help get the digestive system going.
9. When should you drink limoncello?
Traditionally, limoncello is served after a meal, chilled, to help with digestion. In some places it is served in chilled ceramic glasses.
10. What is the best currency to use in Italy?
The currency of Italy is the euro, but you won’t need cash for all of your transactions. Many shops and restaurants accept payment through Visa and Mastercard, with American Express being less common.
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