Espresso, Doppio, Macchiato, Ristretto, Corretto, Lungo, Latte freddo, Latte caldo, Latte a parte, Decaf, Tazza grande, Al vetro, Corretto with Grappa, with Sambuca, with Chocolate ...
Each Italian has a personal sense of Coffee.
Italians just love their coffee.
It's a daily ritual that has grown widely in Italy since it was introduced back in 1500s. Italian Coffee Culture brings together personal, emotional, social interactions and family narrative. And, like any cultures, comes with its own peculiarities and inexplicable yet firm laws.
I have read so many articles on the subject, observed so many foreigners getting stuck while ordering a coffee in Italy, and discussed with American colleagues and friends on all the stereotypes about our coffee drinking that I thought it was good to clarify few aspects here and reveal some of my little secrets for a great Italian coffee experience.
Coffee in Italy is not a drink nor a caffeine shot.
Coffee in Italy has a completely different meaning: it’s a social moment, a time break, an excuse to talk to people, to spend time, to be friendly, to say you’re sorry, to say you’re glad, to say something to someone. To be with someone.
Coffee is the first thing you offer a visitor coming to your house, when I was a child our Moka coffee maker was always on the stoves, now the Nespresso machine is always on. All day long. It’s the same welcoming gesture Asian cultures would express with tea.
When someone wants to talk to you for business or personal reasons, as a first thing they would invite you for a coffee. There’s no real need for coffee, but that’s the Italian formula to start a deeper conversation. Next time you want to get to know an Italian better, you might want to invite them for a coffee - Ci prendiamo un caffè? - nobody would be surprised or would get offended.
MIX WITH CARE
The menu of a typical coffee place would be: coffee and cappuccino.
You can than ask for any variations and the bartender would interpret, create and deliver. No menu needed.
We generally don’t like frappuccino, creamy, fruity, iced, mixed coffee with whatever is on the shelf. Starbucks is arriving in Italy, Milan next year. After years of trials and market searches, they had to adjust both concept and menus to try to be successful here. Can’t wait to see what they came up with.
In the original Italian coffee the ingredients you find are: coffee.
Occasionally you can add milk, chocolate, hazelnut, Grappa, Sambuca, whipped cream possibly not altogether. In main cities and touristic areas of the country, many places have adjusted to tourists demand for already mixed preparations in their coffee menus. If you’re looking for an authentic experience, avoid those places.
Latte, yes you can have milk in the afternoon. Although you barely see any Italian having a cappuccino after 11.00 am.
The good alternative is a “Macchiato”, a small size coffee with foam milk, that you can have at any time of the day. Yes, even after dinner.
And, just remember that in Italy, when you ask for "Latte", you are literally going to have a glass of milk.
Shaked iced coffee (Caffè shakerato) is my favourite summer coffee ritual.
It consists of a shot of espresso poured over ice cubes and simple syrup, then shaken in a cocktail shaker for what seems like an eternity (it actually takes 10-15 sec). When the blend is poured and served in a Martini glass, you assist to the perfect alchemical transformation: the dense espresso, now frothy, sweet and flecked with ice, is as refreshing as it is flavourful.
SHOULD I STAY, SHOULD I GO
Italians drink coffee in small cups and cappuccino in large cups, sometimes the personal sense of Coffee lead Italians to place the weirdest requests in terms of shapes and sizes. Bartenders have a strong memory and the quickest gestures, even in the crowdest bars they deliver what asked as quick as possible.
Don't be surprised if bartenders start treating you as their best friends.
When you enter the door and while greeting you their "Buongiorno!", they already started making your coffee when they add - Il solito? -, which means the usual one? Be sure it's your coffee, exactly as you like it. I have no idea how they do it, yet they recall any little detail of all of their returning clients coffee habits.
In recent years many Italians have developed a feeling with the “cup to go” and especially when back from a vacation from NYC, we assist to the “coffee to go” ordering shift, just to make a statement they are cosmopolitan people. It generally last a week than the old habits get back.
Many coffee places are now equipped with the cups to go and you can have your cappuccino or coffee on the go…although the ancient habit of having a coffee “al banco”, which means standing at the bar sipping your coffee, remains very strong.
I invite my foreigners guests and friends to try it, especially in the morning, it’s one of the best ways to meet people and start talking and laughing about really anything: football, weather, politics, tv shows, food, recipes, music….
Just for the fact you are sharing the counter bar sipping coffee together, Italians would consider you a local.
Have a great coffee experience. Ella