This summer, it seems like everyone you know is vacationing in Europe, and quite a few of them went to Italy. Of course, it’s easy to see the appeal of Italy; the architecture, the history, the food, and of course, the coffee! In fact, we’ve met some non coffee drinkers that became coffee lovers after their first sip of espresso in Italy, at the airport, no less.
Statistically speaking, the average Italian consumes between 5-6 kg of coffee beans a year. Italians have also been brewing and drinking coffee ever since the Ottoman Turks introduced it to Venice in the 16th century. So saying that Italians have a strong coffee culture is almost an understatement.
The Italians’ long lasting love affair with coffee also means that they have had the time to conjure up countless customs and unwritten laws related to coffee drinking and ordering that a tourist might not be aware of until they are already in Italy and get a dirty look from the barista for ordering a cappuccino after 11 a.m.
There are many customs and unwritten laws you may not be aware of when you enter that bar. To help you out, here are a few examples and tips on how to order and drink coffee like the locals:
There is absolutely no need to say ‘espresso’ when you’re ordering a coffee in Italy, and don't be surprised if you get a tiny cup with one shot of espresso when you say 'un caffè, per favore'. If you happen to like your (espresso) coffee on the watery side, you can ask for a ‘caffe lungo,’ or if you like it shorter, you can ask for a ‘ristretto.’ Espresso coffee can be ordered any time of the day, often after a meal, and most likely would taste better than anything you can find at your nearby hipster café.
LOCAL'S TIP: A caffè doppio (a double shot of espresso) is not common in Italy. If you need that extra jolt of caffeine, order a ristretto, or just visit your favourite barista multiple times a day – you wouldn’t be the only one.
Nine out of ten Italians only drink coffee as their breakfast. The coffee can be consumed straight as an espresso shot or, more often than not, diluted with milk. Some of the most common coffee to drink in the morning are:
Cappuccino: equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk
Caffè latte: espresso with more steamed milk and less foam
Latte macchiato: steamed milk with a splash of espresso
LOCAL'S TIP: Refrain from ordering these drinks after 11 a.m. Italians only drink milky coffee in the morning – never in the afternoon, and especially not after a meal, it is not a dessert!
This being Italy, you can find numerous options and regional variations worth knowing and drinking. Here are a few examples:
Caffè corretto: very common in Southern Italy, it is an espresso ‘corrected’ with a dash of alcohol, such as grappa or sambuca.
Caffè macchiato: espresso with a splash of milk. Unlike the breakfast drinks, this lightly milky caffè can be enjoyed as frequently as a normal espresso.
Caffè marocchino: derived from the Italian word for Moroccan, it is usually served in a small glass and consists of a shot of espresso, cocoa powder and milk froth. Originated in Piedmont, it is very common in Northern Italy, but not usually found in the bar menus in the south of the country where it’s more commonly known as an Espressino.
Caffè Leccese: originated in the city of Lecce and enjoyed throughout the Puglia region, it consists of a cup of espresso served with ice cubes and almond syrup. Cold and sweet with a delicious almond flavour, this is the Pugliese locals' go to coffee during the scorching summer months.
LOCAL'S TIP: Whichever coffee you choose, refrain from taking it to-go. Coffee is supposed to be enjoyed “al momento”, ideally at a bar with friends, not while standing on a moving bus.
In Italy, coffee is often drunk while standing up al banco (at the bar), and consumed in one quick gulp. However, you also have the option to take a seat and enjoy your coffee leisurely. Keep in mind that the prices between the two options differ. It is almost always cheaper to have your coffee at the bar, standing up.
LOCAL'S TIP: In Italy it is common to order from the barista and drink your coffee first, then pay at the cash register, unless there’s a sign specifying otherwise.
When you order coffee at a bar, the barista often serves it accompanied by a glass of water. Here’s the rule: the water must be drunk first. Drinking water after coffee is not only useless, but also counterproductive because it eliminates the taste of the coffee.
LOCAL'S TIP: The barista usually also asks if you want your water still or sparkling. There is no right or wrong answer here, it’s just a matter of preference. And the water is always free with your coffee.
If you can’t make it to Italy this summer, why not bring Italy home and brew your own favourite Italian coffee from the comfort of your own kitchen. At Faema Montreal, you can find everything you need to replicate an Italian coffee bar experience with automatic espresso machines in every price point and electric milk frothers for any budget. As an added bonus, you can enjoy your beloved cappuccino after dinner without the look of disapproval from the Italian barista. That (almost) beats being in Rome!