Coffee is of crucial importance in Rome (coming in just behind the Colosseo in thematic importance).
Some of the world’s best coffee can be found in Italy, and Italians take this truth very seriously. Read on for everything you need to know to feel confident walking into any Italian bar*.
(*In Italian, bar is used the same way as café in English.)
Essential vocabulary for ordering coffee in Italian
Okay, you’re ready to walk into the bar and order your coffee the Italian way. But first thing’s first, you need to know what to order! Below, find the most popular coffee orders in Italy so you’ll know exactly what you want when you walk in the door.
This is the holy grail of Italian caffè. Just like in the English-speaking world, an espresso is a shot of coffee. Italians have a tendency to order this at any and all times of day, and it’s a great way to finish an exquisite pasta lunch. If you want a double hit of caffeine, order an espresso doppio, a double espresso, but be ready for quite the kick!
A macchiato in Italian is not the coffee of the same name you might order at Starbucks elsewhere in the world. The word literally means “stained,” and it stems from the dash of milk added to your espresso.
If you’re lactose intolerant, try asking for latte di soia (soy milk), latte di mandorla (almond milk), or latte di cocco (coconut milk). Although you might get a strange look (Italians are still die-hard cow milk aficionados when it comes to coffee), most places will have at least one non-dairy option.
Caffè latte/latte macchiato
Caffè latte translates to coffee and milk. It will usually come in a tall glass filled with espresso and steamed milk. The difference to note is that while a caffè latte has milk added to the espresso, and is therefore coffee-based, a latte macchiato, has espresso added to the milk, making it milk-based.
A latte macchiato will be foamier and have much less espresso in it than a caffè latte, which may be why this tends to be the drink of choice for Italian teenagers just starting their espresso journey.
Famous worldwide, we know we don’t need to tell you what a cappuccino is. But we added it to the list because this coffee drink does come with its own unique set of rules.
A cappuccino (or anything that heavily involves milk, such as a caffè latte or latte macchiato), is very much considered a breakfast beverage. That’s why Italians tend to enjoy it with a cornetto in the morning rather than after meals later in the day.
If you order this with or after your lunch or dinner, expect a snicker or two. That being said, at Devour we’re big believers in you doing you, so if that’s what you’re craving, we say go for it, as long as you know it’s not the most traditional order.
This is the word for a decaf coffee. Order this if you’re looking for that coffee taste without the caffeine. Another popular option throughout Italy is ordering an orzo, a caffeine-free coffee substitute made from ground barley.
This is a shot of espresso with a bit of liquor thrown in for good luck, usually grappa or sambuca.
An amazing summer option, this is usually a simple mix of coffee and ice shaken up together, though some places will add cream or milk.
Now that you’ve learned the different coffee options in Italy, it’s time to learn how to order!
In most Italian bars (remember, in Italian, a bar is like a café), people go in, order, drink at the counter, have a chat and then head back out. This is certainly the most traditional way of having coffee in Italy, as Italians don’t subscribe to the coffee-to-go lifestyle. However, you can definitely find places where you can sit down as you linger over your newspaper, or in the summertime enjoy a table outside and people-watch while you enjoy your shakerato.
A simple way to order is just to open with, “Vorrei un…”, which means “I would like a,” and then follow it up with your order. Remember to finish it with a please, and you’re good to go!
Here are two examples: “Vorrei un espresso, per favore,” which means I would like an espresso, please” and “vorrei due cappuccini, per favore,” which is how you’d say “I’d like two cappuccinos, please.”
Un caffè sospeso, per favore
One last thing we wanted to share with you is an old tradition, no longer often used, that we’d love to see brought back. When you order a coffee, you can also order a caffè sospeso, a suspended coffee, meaning you pay for an extra coffee, and then if someone comes in who can’t afford one, they can ask if there are any suspended—and if there are, they get a coffee, too! We love this idea. It embodies Italian warmth and kindness, and it’s the kind of thing we all could use a bit more of in this world.
Alright, international coffee drinkers—we hope this has been useful for you, and that you venture out armed with your order ready, confident in your caffè knowledge.
Go forth and sip!
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Born just outside of Rome, Flavia grew up bouncing back and forth between Italy and California, eventually moving back to the Eternal City and confirming her lifelong commitment to real gelato. Today she travels the world working for an international humanitarian organization and spends her free time writing and wandering around her beloved Roma in constant search of bookstores and the perfect espresso. Her debut novel, All the Way to Italy, was published in April 2018. You can find her city blog on Rome at whichwaytorome.com and her portfolio of published writing at flaviinrome.com.