Italian Coffee – What and How to Order

Italian Coffee Protocol

There are many things that Italians hold dear, coffee being one of the big ones. But there are unspoken rules about how to order Italian coffee, and if you do it wrong, every Italian will judge you, even the nice ones. The rules may seem a little intense or unnecessary, but they are sacred, and don’t even bother asking why they are the way they are. At the end of the day, you can do whatever you want. I’m not going to lie to you, I break these rules from time to time, but I don’t mind being judged. Everyone in Soriano knows that I am American, so I blame by faux pas on that and do what I want. Here are the most important coffee rules:

  1. No milky drinks after noon, that’s right not even a cappuccino (I break this one all the time)
  2. Don’t order espresso – it’s called caffè
  3. Don’t order a double shot, better to just order two caffè
  4. Drink your caffè standing up at the bar
  5. Don’t try to order take away coffee

How to Order Italian Coffee

A coffee shop is called a “Bar” so you will see bars on every corner of every Italian town. At first glance, it might seem like Italians are heavy drinkers, well they are, coffee drinkers.

There is no general rule of when to pay and where to order. This varies from bar to bar. My tip is to watch what other people are doing, and then follow suit. In most cases, very crowded bars, and bars attached to gas stations have the same order. First you order your coffee [and pastry] at the register, then you go to the bar to drink your coffee. Smaller bars, like the ones in Soriano, you can either order at the register, or order at the bar, and then pay after you’ve had your coffee.

Most times you won’t see a line formed to order coffee, its pure chaos. Just a bunch of Italians, pushing each other aside, shouting their orders at the barista and taking shots of coffee. Don’t be afraid to step into the ring and do some pushing and shoving of your own. Ordering coffee in Italy is an offensive sport, if you play defense, you’ll never get that cup of caffè.

Italian coffee bar. Everyone is standing.
A Typical Italian Bar

Types of Italian Coffee

The “menu” which you can order coffee from is much shorter than what we are used to in this Starbucks world we live in. In fact, Italy only just got their first Starbucks store last year in Milan, because that type of coffee shop just isn’t what Italians want from coffee. I will say, it is a really cool looking Starbucks, and I would definitely stop in to see what it’s all about.

Beware: Italian Coffee is very traditional, there aren’t many substitutions, sizes, or whipped cream and toppings. The options of what to order are:


Italian coffee - espresso
An Italian Espresso, sometimes served with water as a cleanser

This is the most popular drink that is being ordered in Italian bars. A caffè is simply a short (I mean REALLY short) espresso. Italians will shoot these back like a shot of whiskey, they walk up to the bar, order a caffè, stir in their sugar, shoot it back, pay, and leave. It’s a quick in-and-out thing, no sitting around and sipping on a Venti Skinny Caramel Brûlée Late and gossiping about the last episode of Game of Thrones.

Speaking of Espresso, there is no letter “x”. Don’t say expresso.

PS. I’m currently typing this, while drinking an American coffee and chatting about the last episode of Game of Thrones.


An Americano coffee in Italy
An Americano- Espresso and hot water

If you’re looking for an American filtered coffee, you might just have to give up. But an Americano is probably going to be the closest you’d get to what you want. This is just espresso with hot water added, it will look and taste more familiar if you are looking for that coffee to sip on in the AM. Some of our vacations homes on our Cooking and Wine under the Tuscan and Umbrian Sun Vacations actually have American coffee machines in them, but I would still suggest skipping that, and ordering some true Italian Coffee.

Caffè Lungo

a long espresso in Italy.
Caffè Lungo- a long espresso

This is something in between an espresso and an americano. It’s a long espresso. At the coffee machine, the process is slowed down so more water is being pulled, this is not a double espresso.

Caffè Ristretto

Italian coffee- caffè ristretto
Caffè ristretto- a very short espresso

This is the opposite of a Lungo. The Ristretto is much thicker, as it uses as little water as possible. Imagine just drinking pure coffee. This is very intense and should have you pretty wired.

Caffè Latte

Caffè Latte – milk and espresso

This can go one of two ways in Italy:

Mostly milk, with a shot of espresso- this is a latte macchiato. Meaning milk, stained with espresso.

Mostly espresso with a shot of milk- this is a caffè macchiato. Meaning espresso, stained with milk

A word of advice: if you order a “latte” you will get a steamy cup of milk. Don’t forget to add “caffè” to the order.


Ah finally, the famous cappuccino. I saved it for last because it is my all time favorite. Frothy, sippable, smooth, its everything I want from a a coffee. This is one of the bigger coffees you can order in Italy, but still, don’t expect anything even as large as a tall from Starbucks. It comes in a little coffee mug that you would need 2-3 of to make a Starbucks tall beverage.

Cappuccino is usually made with whole milk that is frothed and combined perfectly with espresso. A great cappuccino has a thick froth on top that is strong enough to create a barrier so your sugar doesn’t fall down into your coffee without being stirred. One of the best cappuccinos I’ve had was actually at the hotel we stay at in our Bologna Cookery Vacations.

Italy’s Secret Menu

Okay it’s not a secret menu, there’s no unicorn frappuccino here. But there are a few drinks out there that are far less ordered and more adventurous.

  • Shakerato– chilled espresso over ice shaken until frothy
  • Caffè al Ginseng– hot espresso with ginseng extract, which is very sweet
  • Caffè d’orzo– a caffeine free barley coffee
  • Affogato- A scoop of vanilla gelato with a shot of espresso on top. Truly decadent, make sure you order at least one of these while you’re in Italy. They are SO GOOD.
  • Caffè Corretto -This literally mean “Corrected Coffee”. So how do you fix a coffee? Add in some Grappa, Sambucca or Brandy. Seriously, this is very good!
  • Caffè al Vetro – (Coffee in Glass) This is a normal caffè, with one major difference: It is served in glass (basically a shot glass) instead of a ceramic cup. This is a big thing mostly in Rome, and the belief is that glass keeps the coffee hotter than ceramic.

Dairy Alternatives

Traditionally, the milk in these beverages is whole milk, however, Italy is with the times, and most bars and hotels will also have soy milk available as a dairy alternative. Even in Soriano, the little town that we host our Cooking and Wine Vacations from offers Soy in most bars. They may roll their eyes a little, because it isn’t traditional, but they will accommodate.

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