Coffee at a traditional Italian café… It’s an almost sacred ritual. Just as symbolic and meaningful as pizza and pasta—and twice as filled with power and history.
Today, a staggering 14 billion cups of coffee are consumed in Italy each year.
That’s because, to an Italian, coffee is more than just coffee. It’s a shared social space that brings cultural and intellectual exchanges together, bound by a habitual need for caffeine and conversation.
It’s where Roma’s greatest business decisions and Venice’s most heated political debates are had, all before 8 AM. From all walks of life and from every elite: too many Italians, coffee is a devout daily ritual to be followed like a well-timed dance.
Naturally, for such a ritual, there are rules. How to order, how to pay, and how to enjoy the whirlwind, daily experience… The experience of drinking deep, jolting coffee at an Italian café.
How To Order
• DON’T: Order a ‘latte.’ When you order a ‘latte’ anywhere else, you usually get a milky coffee. In Italy, however, ‘latte’ means ‘milk,’ If you order a ‘latte’ you’ll get just that: a glass of milk without the coffee.
• DO: Know your espresso. Looking for a short, strong shot of espresso? A ristretto it is. Something a little more “stretched” out? Lungo’s your pick. A milky espresso? Go for the macchiato.
• DON’T: Order a cappuccino, or any other type of milky coffee after 11 AM. The Italians only drink milky coffee in the morning and most cafés take it off the menu after noon has passed.
• DO: Order your coffee correctly. Most people who order espressos around the world, actually get what the Italians consider regular coffee. If you’re not looking for a high-powered espresso jolt in the morning, order a regular Italian instead. Simply say: “un caffè, grazie” (a coffee, thanks).
How To Pay
• DO: Pay before you order. If you want to drink your coffee at the bar, you’ll likely have to go to the cash register to pay for your coffee first, and then take the receipt to the bartender.
• DON’T: Tip if you’re drinking coffee at the bar. Only tip if you’re seated at a table. Italians don’t usually tip if they’re having their coffee at the bar or on-the-go. For many, this is a quick refuel, and people don’t tend to hang around for long.
• DO: Watch out for the table surcharge. If you do decide to sit down for your coffee, beware of the price jump. In some of the more touristy parts of Italy, there’s a huge difference in price between a coffee at the bar and a coffee at a table. Locals know that.
How To Enjoy It
• DO: drink your “un caffè” standing at the bar. This is how traditional Italians take their regular java. If you want to take in the rapid, flowing movement of a true Italian morning—with all it’s babbling chatter and animated gestures—the bar is where you need to be.
• DON’T: Forget to ask for “un cornetto” (an Italian croissant) with your coffee in the morning. It’s customary in Italy to offset the bitterness of the coffee with the sweetness of the flaky croissant, and most baristas consider it mandatory with your coffee.
• DO: Drink your coffee quickly. In Italy, coffee is made at a drinkable temperature. Not searing hot or half-dead cold. In order to enjoy the coffee at it’s best, Italians drink it as soon as it hits the café bar. There’s nothing like that instant punch of freshly brewed espresso to kick your senses into high gear!