Enjoy Coffee Like an Italian
Spend some time anywhere from Milan to Amalfi and soon enough you’ll receive the invitation: “Prendiamo un caffè?” And if you’re going to order coffee like an Italian rather than be spotted as a tourist, there are a few important things you need to know.
Drinking coffee is a beloved daily ritual of la dolce vita and it follows distinct customs. While words like “espresso” and “latte” have spread around the world, they don’t quite mean in Italy what they do at Starbucks.
So before you stroll up to the bar and accidentally order a glass of milk, we’ve gone ahead and done the research for you. With our Girl’s Guide to Caffè Italiano, you’ll be totally prepped and ready to sip a macchiato al banco in your Ferragamo’s like a true local.
Italians don’t go to a coffee shop or a cafe to caffeinate—they go to “il bar.” And while Americans will sip on the same cup for hours, the Italian custom is to drink a small dose right then and there, preferably with a friend in tow. Caffè is above all a social opportunity and Italians will pop into their local bar up to six times daily to refuel. To-go cups are strictly for tourists.
In Italy, the word “espresso” is a technical term referring to the machine—so don’t order one. What we think of as espresso, they know simply as “caffè.” You can get a double espresso by asking for a “doppio,” though it’s a rare choice—most Italians will just come back again later. And if what you desire is a latte, don’t forget to say “caffè latte,” by itself it just means milk and that’s exactly what you’ll get.
As far as most Italians are concerned, the only appropriate time to drink a caffè latte or a cappuccino is before 11 am. They cannot imagine having so much milk on a full stomach and would never ever do so right after a meal.
It’s always the right time of day for a simple caffè (espresso) or macchiato. In a small enough dose that it won’t disturb your sleep, the Italians consider espresso to be a beneficial, digestive pick-me-up after lunch or dinner. Make it a caffè correto (spiked with grappa or sambuca) to enhance the digestive properties.
When the heat rises, the Italians excel at whipping up a caffè that cools you down. Try a granita di caffè for an icy treat, which is even more delicious with a dollop of panna (whipped cream). Alternately, a frothy caffè shakerato always hits the spot and shows up looking chic in a chilled martini or wine glass.
Another fabulous way to enjoy espresso after a meal is with an affogato. Literally meaning “drowned,” this classic Italian dessert is simply a scoop of vanilla gelato topped with a shot of hot espresso—delizioso!