A Guide To Ordering Coffee in Italy ☕

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Ordering coffee in Italy is no simple task I've come to find in my two and a half months of staying here-- there is a specific set of rules and customs unlike anything we have in the US. Italians take their coffee seriously, and the whole process is filled with do's, don't, cans, and absolutely cannots of customs. I wanted to make a little guide to hopefully help any other people coming here to Italy make their coffee experience much smoother than the ones I've had. I'll get it eventually I suppose, but here's what I've learned so far!

☕ Italians don't have a variety of syrups, flavours, and specialty drinks. At traditional Italian coffee shops you pretty much have two options and two options only: espresso or a cappuccino.
☕ Majority of caffes, unless they cater towards Americans, don't do to go. If they do, it's called "Take Away."
☕ You will pay nearly double though to get your coffee to stay there and sit down; so if there's a take away option it saves you a lot of money!
☕ To order your coffee, usually there isn't a register where you wait in line and order; most times, you just go up to the bar and tell the Barista what you want.

 
☕ That being said...there will always be a crazy amount of people at the bar because Italians don't sit down and drink coffee at tables. They stand at the bar, chat, and drink their coffee.
☕ I've noticed Italians don't take their time and drink, either. In the US, it is customary to get a coffee, sit down at the shop for a few hours, and drink and relax. In Italy, it's usually downed all in one gulp and done in less than five minutes.
☕ Don't order a latte. You will get milk. Don't order a cioccolato latte. You will get chocolate milk. Don't order a caffe latte. You will get milk with a tad bit of coffee (which still tastes just like milk).
☕ There are no Starbucks in Italy. Not.a.single.one.
☕ If the caffe serves lunch, you most likely cannot sit at the shop. During lunch hour, you're expected to either drink it at the bar or sit in the tiny high top tables by the bar. You're absolutely not allowed to drink your coffee at lunch hour and sit--that is reserved for the people having lunch.
☕ Whipped cream is not a thing to put on coffee here, and they will look at you like you're crazy if you ask.

 
☕ All the coffees are tiny here if you do manage to find a shop that serves something other than espresso or cappuccino. Just be warned, your americano or moka will look like it is for a child.
☕ If you take cream with your coffee, I'm sorry it actually doesn't exist here :( They don't have fancy, flavored creamers or any at all actually. They will give you milk to put in your coffee.
☕ Hot chocolate (or cioccolato caldo) is more like a thick, hot pudding consistency and actually won't be a liquid. They'll give you a spoon and everything to scoop it out with!
☕ I haven't had this issue, but I know quite a few people who have-- it is not customary to order cappuccinos after lunch time or in the evening. The baristas will look at you like you're crazy. Cappuccinos are only for the morning. 

 
☕ Iced drinks also don't exist here (unless again, you go to an American shop and even then they still don't really understand completely). There are no iced coffees, frozen cappuccinos, or the likes. A bummer if you're here in the warm months and want something cool to drink.
☕ If you're going to make your own coffee, Keruigs or drip coffee makers are not in existence here. You either buy an espresso maker, or buy coffee grounds at the grocery store to pour into hot water.

What are your experiences with ordering coffee while in Italy if you're visiting from a different country? It's always an interesting time to see what you might learn next. Who knew something as simple as coffee could be such a cultural difference? x

With much love, Lauren. 

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12 lovely little notes:

Gina Alyse said...

Oh my goodness I loved this! And I just learned SO much! When I went to Rome for three days when I studied abroad in Spain last spring, I ordered a cappuccino at lunchtime, but not only did I order it then, I also ordered it before my meal and they thought I was crazy. Now I remember that coffee is only served after meals as part of dessert haha! I guess I couldn't wait for the caffeine!

Also, there are no starbucks in Italy? So weird! There were several in my city in Spain. I'd think there would have been some in Italy!

Monica said...

Loved this! I have a friend you studied abroad in Italy and she definitely experienced some of these things! This was such a thorough post, and so fun to read. I love hearing about how things are different in other cultures. I will definitely keep this in mind if I ever get to go to Italy!

Karen said...

I was surprised there are no Starbucks, most European countries seem to have them by now... weird! A lot of these apply to Ireland too, where I live - but then it's not weird to me to not have cream on coffee or things like that. Cream is for hot chocolate. And we have Starbucks now with the fancy flavoured things and iced drinks but they're still a huge novelty and not something to buy a lot! I've had one iced coffee, ever. It's just not really done here!

Miriam W said...

I have the exact opposite problem! :D I only drink espresso, so Italy is coffee heaven for me! I spent 3 weeks in the US this summer and it was so hard to find a coffee shop that actually sells it, and if they did, it was rarely strong enough for my taste... I guess it really is a cultural difference!

Ciara said...

Not sure if there's one close to where you are, but Arnold's Coffee is an American-style coffee chain in Italy. So maybe try checking it out?

Barbs LeCupcake said...

the reasons why there is no starbucks here are, first of all, the quality of italian espresso. once you get used to that any american coffee would taste like dirty water. second, the espresso concept: walk into a bar, order a coffee, drink it, pay 1 euro and walk out. no queuing, no wifi password, o mispelled names, no seat hunting, no £7 where's my change. and one more thing, considering how many old bars are there in every street, it's likely people who live there develop some loyalty to one, or a friendship with the barista and all the usual customers.

friedenlinde said...

lol, that's so funny! As an italian I can say we take our espresso coffee *very* seriously, and for us there's no other coffee in the world that's good as our espresso - or moka - is.
Fun fact, there are tons of italians that bring a moka and coffee with them in their luggage while traveling abroad. Since we don't like american coffee, nor french - or any other kind of coffee out there actually (are there any other coffee types out there? lol :D )
That's why there isn't a Starbucks in Italy at all. It won't have anyone going there! Since we don't like the "long" american coffee and we do love our "shot" and "short" coffee :)
Yes, cappuccino is for the morning... But if you are brave enough you could order it at afternoon as well instead of a tea (we do like tea, even tho tea with lemon is more common than tea with milk, which I actually personally prefer). And if you want to sit down at the bar and chat with friends, there's tea time... or aperitif time - often you can actually *eat* a lot of snacks, etc and stay until late in the evening.
It's just a matter of cultural differences, habits, routine - and taste.
I hope you have great time in Italy! :)

Jeannee Waseck said...

My dear Lauren ... wow! I had no clue that it was that different - nor would I expect it to be! In fact it reminded me of when I moved from my home state of NJ, to Maine, and I was in deep culture shock for the two years I lived there, it was so vastly different!

I was curious and so I tried to access Starbucks website - but I got an error message that there site was down for a coffee break (ha, ha, right?!) ... I did find a business report that said the following (God bless the Internet!): "Italians Protect Coffee Culture In Italy — where one city has already formed an association to protect historic cafés — a battle lies ahead.

For Italians, drinking their coffee is as routine as breathing — a recent survey found that 70 million cups of espresso are drunk in Italy each year. That's 600 shots per person, consumed in any of Italy's 110,000 coffee bars. Milan, nexus of the fashion world, has some 600 cafés alone.

And Italians' cafés are a source of pride and joy. In this country where sidewalk cafés are firmly entrenched in the national psyche, Starbucks' announcement has caused an uproar.

"The Italian café is a culture that the Americans have repackaged," said a spokesman for one of Starbucks' European competitors. "They concentrate more on their image than the coffee."

Italy's La Stampa newspaper chided: "We thought we had everything in Italy, but it turns out we lacked one thing: American coffee,"

Rhesa said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences! I'm going to Italy next year for my sister's wedding, and as a coffee lover, really appreciate your advice. Blessings xx

Justine Prabucki said...

How extremely complicated! I have been to Italy once but about 7 years ago and I wasn't much of a coffee drinker then. Its still interesting to hear about how different customs there can be with something as simple as a beverage.
Justine
http://theredlipchronicles.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

It sounds like you need to grow up and get out of your closed-minded American perspective. Italians have the greatest coffee in the world and don't need to hide it under "fancy creamers." I'm sure Starbucks' watered down coffee will be waiting for you with open arms when you make your triumphant return to the United States.

Bethany Morrow said...

When I was in Italy we would order a Caffe Latte AND an expresso shot and pour the expresso shot in with the Latte. That usually worked out quite nicely!

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