If there is one thing I have learned for sure during my five years living in Rome, it is to not to get between an Italian and their coffee. In America we learn about the many different kinds of coffee — frappuccino, hazelnut, latte, etc. None of these types of coffee, however, can actually be found in Italian cafes.
Ordering coffee in Italy can be daunting for the tourist or first time visitor, as there are so many coffee choices to explore. Here is some basic Italian coffee terminology:
Caffe’ (“kahf-feh”): A single shot espresso. This is regular coffee for Italians.
Caffe’ doppio: A double shot espresso
Cappuccino: Equal parts espresso, hot milk and frothed milk, often with cocoa powder sprinkled on top
Caffe’ latte: A single shot of espresso combined with steamed milk, often with a dollop of frothed milk on top.
Latte macchiato: Latte macchiato literally translates as ‘stained milk.’ A latte macchiato is a glass of warm milk ‘stained’ with a couple drops of espresso.
Caffe’ corretto: Espresso ‘corrected’ with a shot of brandy, cognac, or liqueur
Caffe’ e cornetto: Espresso and a croissant, a popular Italian breakfast combo
Caffe’ lungo: Espresso with about twice as much water as is normally used for a single shot
So, when to sip the almighty brew — when is the best time to drink coffee in Italy? Well, one thing you should never do (that is, if you don’t want to walk around with a “TOURIST” label on your forehead), is drink cappuccino or caffe’ latte after 10:30 a.m. These Italian coffee drinks are strictly for the mattina because of their high milk content and should not be consumed after meals.
Now that you’ve figured out what kind of Italian coffee you would like, you must decide whether to sit down at a table or to drink it al banco. Well, most cafés in Italy actually charge extra for you to sit down to drink your coffee. This is why there is often a wave of people drinking in piedi, or standing up, at the counter in an Italian bar.
When it comes to ordering, do not be naïve and attempt to ‘wait in line.’ In Italy, this strategy just doesn’t work. Instead, you must make your way to the front of the crowd, waving your scontrino, or receipt (especially if your Italian is not yet good enough to drown out the masses by yelling out your order). Note: This form of speaking loudly, in Italy, may be considered normal speech.
If you are lucky enough to find yourself visiting Rome, head over to Bar del Cappuccino (Via Arenula, 50) where you can sip one of the best cups of coffee in Rome and marvel at the funky designs they create in the foam of your cappuccino.
— Danielle Rovet
Danielle Rovet is a contributing editor to Dream of Italy’s Rome travel app Rome: Dream of Italy with more than 400 entries on where to stay, what to see, where to eat in Rome.