09 Mar How to: order coffee like an Italian
Drinking coffee in Italy is not only practically the national sport, but is also one of the first ways you’ll be reminded that you are not one of them when you first move here.
Italy simply wouldn’t be the same without coffee, and most Italians don’t function without it. Most of the locals I know have at least 4 or 5 espressos per day, and some regularly manage double that (S, I’m looking at you!). Italians find the idea that coffee before bed stops you from sleeping as weird as we find the fact that they get sore necks from leaving their hair wet after the shower. No meal is complete without a little shot of caffeine, and that goes for dinner too.
An espresso will usually set you back a mere €1, so if you can’t beat ’em, there’s no real reason you can’t join ’em.
Although cosy cafés are on the up (Italy’s first Starbucks is rumoured to be opening in Milan next year), and taking your time over a cappuccino in the morning is more than acceptable, during the rest of the day coffee is drunk standing up, in fretta, and frequently.
Coffee-to-go does exist, but not how you or I know it: you can call your local bar, who will send a waitress to your home or place of work with a tray and a little porcelain coffee cup, covered with tin foil or sometimes an adorable little lid. When you’re done, you can either take the cup back, or wait until the next time they bring you a caffé, when they’ll pick it up again. Can’t get much more Italian than that, can you?
When you go to the “bar” (no, I don’t know why they didn’t go for “café” either) for your caffeine fix, you may think there are only a few options – espresso, americano, macchiato, or cappuccino? – but you have no idea what’s out there until you hear how the Italians ask for theirs.
Here are 10 types of coffee you might like to try, with some added options for personalisation.
1. Un caffè.
“A coffee”. That’s an espresso, to you and me.
Personalise it: you can ask for your caffè to be ristretto (“limited”: an even smaller, stronger one), lungo (“long”: left to run a bit extra, so there’s a bit more of it), decaffeinato (“decaf”), or even corretto (“corrected”: with a little bit of liquor, usually grappa or brandy, thrown in for good measure). If you want to emphasise that you don’t want to meddle with the bitter perfection of a regular espresso, ask for a caffè, normale.
2. Un caffè macchiato.
“A stained coffee”. An espresso with a dash of milk.
Personalise it: If you just ask for a macchiato, you’ll get an espresso with a splash of hot milk (a.k.a. a caffè macchiato caldo, or “hot stained coffee”) which is kind of like a baby cappuccino. If you’d prefer cold milk to be added, ask for a macchiato freddo.
3. Un caffè americano.
“An American coffee”, but you knew that already. In Italy however, americanos are not huge vats of filter coffee. They’re a shot of espresso in a cappuccino cup, served with a tiny pot of hot water on the side, which you add yourself. They’re often stronger than the same thing abroad.
Personalise it: Not a lot can be done with an americano, but most Italians drink it without milk, so if you want some, you should ask for your coffee con latte freddo a parte “with cold milk on the side”.
4. Un cappuccino.
I definitely don’t need to translate this one. You’ve probably already heard the cardinal rule of the cappuccino: do not order one after 11am, unless you’re willing to be judged, glared at, and immediately labeled a tourist.
Personalise it: If you prefer your cappuccino milky, ask for a cappuccino chiaro “light cappuccino”. If you’d like more coffee and less milk, ask for a cappuccino scuro “dark cappuccino”. Ask for it con cacao for a touch of chocolate powder or con cannella if you’d like some cinnamon sprinkled on top.
5. Un caffè al ginseng.
“A ginseng coffee”. An unusually exotic trend for Italian standards, ginseng is a root which arrives from Asia and boasts various health benefits from improving brain function to aiding weight loss and even helping to prevent cancer (all somewhat questionable, but hey ho). It’s combined with coffee to make a strangely-flavoured milky beverage which is longer than an espresso but not quite as much as a cappuccino.
6. Un latte macchiato.
“A stained milk”. If you’re after a latte, this is the closest Italy can offer. It’s a tall glass of hot milk with a shot of coffee in it. N.B. If you order a latte, you’ll get a glass of milk.
Personalise it: with latte scremato “skimmed milk” or latte di soia “soy milk” if you really insist on being difficult.
7. Un caffè d’orzo.
“A barley coffee”. Ok, this is technically not coffee, but it’s a go-to drink for those who don’t drink caffeine but need a shot of hot something to get them out of bed in the morning. It’s prepared in the same machines as regular coffee, but tastes nothing like it. I personally find it quite foul, but plenty of others evidently do not.
Personalise it: Ask for your orzo in tazza grande “in a big cup” or in tazza piccola “in a small cup”, depending on whether you want to sip calmly like you would with a cup of tea or hot chocolate, or if you’re just joining your colleages for a caffè al volo before work.
8. Un caffè shakerato.
“A shakered coffee”. A summer favourite of mine, the caffè shakerato is all the caffeiney goodness of an espresso, only it’s cold, refreshing, and often served in a glass which will make you feel like you’ve just stepped off the set of Sex and the City.
Personalise it: If you don’t specify, a caffè shakerato is prepared with coffee and sugar, thrown around with ice in a cocktail shaker, then strained into a glass. If you prefer your coffee bitter, ask for it senza zucchero. If you’d like it sweeter, say you’d like it dolce, if you want ice cubes added, request it con ghiaccio, and if you’re in the mood for a weekend twist, just say con Bailey’s.
9. Una crema al caffè.
“A cream of coffee”. Crema al caffè is kind of a middle ground between ice cream, coffee, and those fluorescent iced drinks you used to get at the cinema. It’s much more popular in the south of Italy than it is in the north, but you’ll still find it in most cafés here too. It’s super sugary, has a slushy consistency and I must admit I am not a huge fan of this one either, but it is a nice refreshing alternative to a hot coffee on those roasting August afternoons.
10. Un caffè marocchino.
“A Moroccan coffee”. I’m not going to lie: I suspect the so-called Moroccan coffee is about as native to North Africa as the English muffin is to the UK. It’s pot luck what you’ll get when you order one of these, as recipes vary from bar to bar. In Turin, you’ll most commonly get a little espresso cup, the inside smeared with a thick coating of Nutella, filled with espresso and some hot milk. Some places, however, use cocoa powder instead of Nutella, and others serve the marocchino in a cappuccino cup instead. But whatever you come across, it’s a little mug of warm, calorific joy. If you’d like your coffee, milk, and drinking chocolate in layers, and find yourself in Turin, try asking for a Bicerin as a local alternative.
Personalise it: Oh believe me, you won’t need to!