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How to Order Coffee in Italy: The Rules

Heading to the home of black coffee? Here’s how to order like a local.

Italians have coffee drinking down to an art. Locals don’t hang around the average coffee shop nursing a syrupy concoction for hours, or grab coffee in a can on their way to work. Rather, they stride into a bar, stand at the counter and throw back “un caffè”. Seats were once taxed by law in Italy, hence the long-standing tradition of drinking coffee standing at a bar.

Ordering may look easy but, like all high culture, there are certain elements to master — especially in Italy.

The ordering may look easy but, like all high culture, there are certain elements to master. So, if you’re heading to the home of black coffee and want to avoid raising eyebrows, read our guide to ordering coffee in Italy pronto.


Order like you’ve been there before

An Italian bar is not the sort of place where you form an orderly line and hope to catch the barista’s eye. Advance purposefully to the counter and be prepared to belt out your order.


Pay like an Italian

But before you do, work out how you’re going to pay as how you settle up in an Italian bar can vary. Normally you order and pay at the cash register first, then bring your receipt to the barista. But in some places, you order at the bar, drink your coffee, then tell the person at the cash register what you’ve had. Take a moment to see what the locals are doing.


Classic black coffee reigns

Unless it’s the morning, don’t order a latte or cappuccino. The day is exclusively reserved for coffee classics.


Don’t mention the espresso, by the way

In Italy, coffee is an espresso so you won’t need to specify when you order. The correct term in Italy is “un caffè”. Nice and simple.


Avoid the typical tourist coffee menu

If you want to hang with the esperti (the local coffee experts), choose classics over trendy drinks. Unless you’re indulging in a charming regional variety, such as un caffè alla nocciola (a hazelnut espresso) in Naples, try one of the following: cappuccino con tanta schiuma, con poca schiuma, cappuccino tiepido, cappuccino ben caldo, chiaro, scuro. Then there’s un caffè in tazza grande, macchiato freddo, macchiato caldo, macchiato chiaro and macchiato scuro. Or if you want to try something bracing, order un caffè corretto (an espresso with a shot of brandy or grappa).


Watch your tongue

Take a moment before sipping your coffee. Not only is it likely to be scorchio, but Italian baristas are in the habit of warming their cups.


Drink as the Italians do

In Italian culture, the standard coffee is a tiny espresso often enjoyed multiple times a day. If you want to get your usual coffee fix, be prepared to take multiple breaks throughout the day.

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