Coffee Bars in Italy – How to Order Like a Native

I tend to be suspicious of restaurant guidebooks, as it’s hard to imagine that the writer has actually eaten in every one, but when I found the Gambero Rosso guide to the best bars and cafes in Italy – there are 1600 bars and cafes listed- I thought that was a bit more plausible, though nerve-wracking.  Afrer all, how many cups of espresso can you drink in a day?

The Gambero Rosso gives a top rating of 3 coffee beans for the best cups of coffee in Italy, and 3 coffee cups for the nicest atmosphere in which to drink it. Since it gives top marks to Di Pasquale, my favorite bar/pastry shop in Ragusa, I decided that it was fairly reliable.

Before you venture into a bar in Italy, learn to order coffee like an Italian. First of all, most Italians drink their coffee standing up at the counter (al banco) and the same coffee can cost significantly more if it is served to you at a table. Italians only drink cappuccino in the morning, and nothing marks you more as a foreigner then ordering cappuccino after a great meal. Though they will grudgingly make it for you, you may be treated to a lecture on the dangers of drinking milk after a meal. (It drastically slows down your digestive system, which in turn will wreak havoc with your fegato – liver – the organ of choice for most Italian ailments.)

If you order un caffè, you will be brought an espresso, as these two words are interchangeable in Italian. If you don’t like black coffee, you may ask for a caffè macchiato, which is an espresso with a spoonful of foamy milk added – either an espresso or a macchiato can finish a meal, or be gulped standing up at the bar for an afternoon pick-me-up. If you want “thinner” coffee, you can try ordering a caffè lungo, or if you are really desperate, a caffè Americano, which Italian coffee connoisseurs refer to as brodo – broth. If you order a “latte” in Italy you’ll be given just that, a glass of milk. Order a double decaf cappuccino with skim milk and risk immediate deportation.

If drinking espresso in the evening results in staring at the bedroom ceiling all night, order a caffè decaffeinato. You could try ordering a camomilla, chamomile tea, though this may trigger a flurry of concern about your health, as Italians generally administer this beverage to the weak or sickly. Or throw caution and your fegato to the wind and order a caffè corretto, an espresso “corrected” by the addition of brandy or grappa, which is made from the stems of crushed grapes and smells remarkably similar to benzina. In an emergency, grappa may be effectively substituted for anesthesia before major dental work.

4 thoughts on “Coffee Bars in Italy – How to Order Like a Native

  1. Excellent. Exactly what I have been telling Americans for years unless I did not want to help them and just let them ‘fare una brutta figura’ by ordering a cappuccino after lunch or dinner.

  2. Hi,
    Accidentally found your blog just today and enjoying it immensley. Moved to Abruzzo nearly 3 years ago and loving it-despite the bureaucracy and time scales!
    Here, a caffe corretto has sambuca added and jolly good it is too.

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