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The Traveller's Magazine
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Coffee drinking in Italy is as natural as eating pizza in Naples or going shopping in Milan. It’s such a big part of Italian culture that if you plan to visit this boot-shaped country this summer, take heed of these tips if you want to be taken as a local.

“Prediamo un caffè?” It’s as common a greeting as anything. So when an Italian invites you out for coffee, there’s no turning them down. The ritual and culture of coffee drinking doesn’t stop at that though, there are unspoken rules to follow. One of the thrills of visiting a new country is decoding their cultural peculiarities, looking at them, understanding them and of course taking part in them. Java-junkies get ready, Italy is your summer holiday destination!


Coffee with milk (cappuccino, caffè latte, macchiato and the like) is only enjoyed in the morning with a light breakfast. The idea of hot steamy milk after a big meal is enough to make any Italian cringe. Another note, if you just order a latte, you will receive a cup of hot and steamy milk, so don’t forget to say caffè latte!


Coffee is coffee, pure and simple. American culture has created dozens of different concoctions that, to any Italian, is just plain wrong. Mint frappuccino? Forget it. There are however a few exceptions to this rule. A regional specialty in Naples for example is the ever-so-delicious caffè alla nicciola (frothy espresso with hazelnut cream).Caffe in Venice


The word espresso isn’t used the same way we use it. For Italians, a regular plain Jane coffee is what we call an espresso. So, if you want a single shot of espresso, just ask for a caffè. If you want a double shot for extra kick, then ask for a caffè doppio.


In a coffee bar, don’t sit down unless you absolutely have it. Italians take their coffee standing up, because it’s short and sweet. By the time they set down their small white porcelain cup, they’re already out the door off to the next meeting or back to their daily grind. There is one exception to this rule. You can sit as long as it’s a beautiful day and you’re in no rush to be anywhere soon.


In spirit with Italy’s Catholic roots, their coffee culture also has its own Holy Trinity which are the usual caffè, cappuccino and caffè latte. There are a few variations though, to suit your mood.

  • Caffè macchiato / latte macchiato – an espresso with a splash of milk or vice versa, hot milk with a splash of coffee
  • Caffè corretto – this is typically enjoyed by Italy’s worker class, it’s an espresso with a little something extra, either brandy or the more local grappa
  • Caffè freddo / cappuccino freddo – iced espresso or cappuccino which usually come pre-sweetened

What’s your favourite coffee destination? Which country makes the best cuppa joe?

Img: alvarolg, alessandaelle / Flickr cc.

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5 responses to “Decoding Italian coffee culture in 5 steps

  1. Very useful tips for the uninitiated, though my fave morning coffee which I was introduced to a few years ago is called a brevé and is basically a caffé latte but made with half milk half water, but always with an extra shot!

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