Before you take a trip to Italy, you should know the basics of how to order coffee (or caffè). There are “rules” surrounding coffee in Italy. I know it’s a bit ironic coming from a country that usually doesn’t even mind the rules of the road or stop signs. It’s not proper to order a cappuccino after 11 am. I was told it’s something to do with dairy on a full stomach. This reasoning doesn’t seem to fit either since it’s appropriate to have mozzarella at all times of day.
The acceptable order after 10 or 11 is a caffé, or what Americans would think of as a shot of espresso. Caffé might mean coffee in Italian, but the closest thing you can get to regular drip coffee is called an “Americano” which is a shot of espresso with hot water.
A caffé lungo will also suffice as a regular American style coffee. Lungo (meaning long) is where the espresso shot itself is pulled longer and therefore has more water. Whether the water is brewed with the espresso or added later doesn’t really matter to me personally, but some people really get worked up over this detail. Choose wisely.
The Italian version of coffee is simply a shot of espresso. So when you order a caffé expect a little shot of delicious, slightly bitter espresso looking something like this…
My usual order is a macchiato. Now, if you just though, “Oh, yes. I know… like the caramel macchiato at Starbucks.” No, not the same thing. A macchiato is simply a small caffè with about a tablespoon of milk.
If you go to Naples, be sure to stop by Gran Caffè Gambrinus. It’s one of the oldest bars in Naples. They make a delicious coffee with nocciola (hazelnut).
A bar in Italy is usually a multi purpose shop that serves coffee and aperitivo. You can drink your coffee at the counter top or sit down at a table, but sitting will usually result in an extra charge. Sometimes the extra charge is worth it if you want to have a rest, relax and watch the world go by.
Coffee is certainly not consumed via straw from a 20 oz cup while pecking away at your laptop. Their reaction to Americans sipping $5 cold brew coffee in a hipster coffee joint would be quite amusing.
There’s none of this extra hot, quad shot, soy milk, pumpkin spice latte business. Anyone who can get all those syllables out of their mouth deserves said order and a high five… but not in Italy, of course.
Here’s my take: you’re not fooling the Italian baristas. They know you’re not Italian. So, if you have a deep hankering for a cappuccino at noon, live on the edge and go for it. Life is too short is conform to rules surrounding dairy.