Italian coffee culture: a guide for travellers
Dear visitor, Welcome to my page about coffe in Italy. Everywhere in the world coffee is just coffee but not in Italy.
I have been doing tours for international tourists for many years and have found that most of you feel confused about coffee in my country. I want to make your life easier and tell you more about the various types of coffee served in Italy and how and when to order them.
You’re a conscientious traveller. You always seek out ‘the real Italy’ and you love trying local specialities. But when you’re at the bar you feel a bit lost ordering a coffee, here is a guide for you!
A cafe is actually called a “bar” in Italy
First, it’s important to know that what you call a “café" we Italians call a “bar." (What’s especially confusing, but we’ll get to in a minute, is that caffè actually means "coffee.") You’ll see hundreds of bars in Rome and in every little village, on almost every corner and sometimes up to three or four in one block! To an untrained eye, you might think Italians have a drinking problem, but don’t worry, they’re only coffee addicts!
Drink at the counter: Italians don’t linger
Italians drink their coffee fast, and at the bar. Espresso is an essential, so they don’t waste time sipping while reading the paper or visiting with friends. Instead, they’ll pop into bars five or six times a day for a quick cup, gulped down at the counter over some banter with the barista.
So, for an authentic experience, join the masses standing at the bar. The clink of ceramic cups and the routine of shaking and stirring sugar packets is endearing, and one you won’t get from a table. If you do feel like sitting, be prepared for a slightly larger bill. It’s usually twice the price if you use table service.
Guide to order coffe in Italy
The espresso is the basic starting point for all Italian coffees. Having made perfect espresso, try making these familiar – and not so familiar – drinks:
• Caffè: “Caffe” means “coffee” in Italian, but what you get isn’t filtered coffee, but what we call espresso. If you ask for coffee or caffè you will get automatically an espresso.
• Caffè Americano: If you’re looking for filtered coffee, this is the closest you’ll get. It’s espresso with hot water added, and probably still a bit stronger than what you’re used to.
• Caffè macchiato: Meaning “stained” or “spotted” coffee, is an espresso with a dash of hot, foamy milk on top. It’s delicious with a bit of sugar and a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.
• Caffè con panna: Similar to the macchiato, but sweeter, this espresso is topped with sweet whipped cream.
• Caffè corretto: This “corrected” coffee is served with a drop of liquor, usually cognac, grappa or Sambuca, but feel free to add whatever you prefer.
• Caffè shakerato: Delicious in the sweltering summer months, a caffè shakerato is a fresh espresso mixed with sugar and ice, and shaken vigorously like a martini until it froths as it’s poured into a chilled glass. Some people add chocolate syrup, which makes it extra divine.
• Caffè latte: This is espresso with hot milk, just like a latte in the U.S. But careful to specify the “caffè” part, because “latte” just means “milk”. Many tourists order a “latte” and are shocked when they’re presented with a steaming mug of white milk, much to the confusion of everyone involved. Even ordered correctly though, the caffè latte is not a common drink in Italy, and you might not get what you expect.
• Cappuccino: Saving the best for last! Italy’s most famous coffee drink, the cappuccino, is a warm, soothing, perfect ratio of espresso to whole milk, frothed to perfection. One sip and you’ll realize it’s completely different than whatever cappuccino you’re used to, and in a good way. But they come with a caveat—you cannot order them after noon unless you want to risk being scorned. Especially if you don't want to upset your chef or barman, do not order a cappuccino with pasta or with pizza! Please, listen to me and order your pasta with wine and your pizza with a cold beer. Italians have a weird thing about drinking cappuccinos only in the morning, and they’ll give you very funny looks if you do otherwise. In Rome do like the Romans 🙂
HOW TO MAKE AND RECOGNIZE PERFECT ESPRESSO
For very best results, freshly grind your coffee beans just before making espresso. The oils that give coffee its complex flavours deteriorate rapidly in contact with air, and are best kept locked inside the beans until just before coffee-making. Invest in a little bean-grinder, or even a ‘bean-to-cup’ espresso machine.
Only a proper espresso machine able to exert high pressure will give you the richest and smoothest espresso. But if you’ve fallen for the retro charm of a dinky octagonal coffee-pot used on the hob (called a moka), you can still make a decent cup. Keep it scrupulously clean inside; never use detergents. Fill the filter to its rim with ground coffee; don’t pack it down. Turn down the heat as soon as liquid coffee starts to form.
A well-made espresso has a good crema. This is the thin layer of golden brown foam that sits atop the coffee for a couple of minutes after making. If the crema is thin and light-coloured, you have under-extracted coffee, with little aroma and a flat taste. Dark foam with a black hole in the middle means over-extracted coffee, and a bitter taste. Note the crema on every espresso you drink in cafés or restaurants from now on, and you’ll quickly learn to spot a good espresso on sight.
BOOK A PRIVATE COFFEE TOUR.
I am italian and I love coffee. I will be pleased to organize a Coffee tour for you: from the factory to the Bar, taste the different types of Caffè from Espresso to Granita di Caffè, and more enquire for further information.