Coffee – the Italian way

Cappuccino, macchiato, doppio, espresso – Italian is the language of coffee. The delicious combination of vowels and syllables roll off …


Cappuccino, macchiato, doppio, espresso – Italian is the language of coffee. The delicious combination of vowels and syllables roll off the tongue in an immensely satisfying way, befitting the respect in which this essential daily drink is held by Italian people.

“La vita inizia dopo il caffè” – Life begins after coffee

Italian saying

Even the traditional Italian Moka coffee pot that’s found in nearly every Italian home has been duly given the respect it deserves by design museums around the world. With its sharp angles and shiny silver appearance, invented in 1933, it’s now a 20th century design classic that has stood the test of time.

The typical Italian day wouldn’t be complete without a cup of coffee. But what type of coffee? This is where Italians differ on their favourite type.

Every coffee is part of a bigger ritual, depending not just on the type of coffee you drink, but where and when too.

Each type of coffee comes in its own specific type of vessel too, a tiny cup with dainty handle and saucer for an espresso or a medium, often glass, vessel, sometimes with a handle, for a caffè latte (a milky coffee, similar to an American latte) or latte macchiato (warm milk served in a tall glass with a dash of espresso on top).

And have you ever wondered why in Italy and in Italian restaurants around the world, coffee is always served with a small glass of water? It’s considered a palate cleanser, allowing you to better enjoy that delicious first sip of rich, strong ‘caffè’.

In the UK, you might enjoy a cup of tea with your lunch while Americans appreciate the traditional combination of coffee and a slice of pie. But in Italy, milky drinks such as tea or coffee are not served with a meal as it’s thought they would spoil the enjoyment and flavour of the food. Instead, it’s thought best to drink liquids that will best bring out the taste of what’s on your place, whether that’s wine or water.

If you’re visiting Italy or want to add a taste of the country to your coffee break, there are some guidelines to follow that will allow you to enjoy your ‘caffe’ like a true Italian.    

Here’s our guide to what to drink, where and, just as importantly, when!

Espresso: Typically ordered while standing at the bar of a café, an espresso isn’t a coffee to linger over. In Italy this is known simply as ‘un caffè’ – the coffee – and it’s the default strong coffee. Enjoy one when standing at the bar or counter, drink it down quickly and move on. We love to take our time over our meals, but our coffee breaks are quick refuelling stops for Italians, serving a functional purpose! If you want an extra shot of espresso, ask for a caffè doppio – a ‘double’.

Cappuccino: A morning drink in Italy, best enjoyed on its own or with a light pastry for breakfast. If made correctly in the Italian way of 1/5 espresso coffee, 2/5 hot milk, 2/5 foam, it ends up being more milk than coffee.  Order it after 11am, or (even worse) after dinner, and you will be met with a questioning look.  That’s because Italians take the role of digestion in a meal very seriously, and milk can upset the digestive process (that’s also why an alcoholic digestivo is often enjoyed after dinner, to help aid digestion and soothe the stomach after a heavy meal).  In fact, many Italians regard milk almost as a meal in itself, so any milky drink after breakfast is seen as a no-no.

Macchiato: A normal espresso with the addition of a little warm milk (caffè macchiato caldo) or cold milk (caffè macchiato freddo). In Italian, macchia means ‘stain’ so this is an espresso with a ‘stain’ of milk.    

Un caffè corretto: a popular choice in winter, this is an espresso ‘corrected’ with a dash of liqueur, such as grappa or Sambuca. In San Daniele we order it by asking for ‘un caffè corretto alla grappa’ or the name of any other liqueur.

Caffè shakerato: this reviving summer drink is like an iced coffee, a combination of coffee and ice, but in this case the coffee is espresso. Shakerato refers to the shaking movement involved in making it. Make it with one shot of fresh espresso, ice cubes and optional sugar or simple syrup. Add all the ingredients into a cocktail shaker, shake for 30 seconds, pour into a martini or white wine glass and garnish with a coffee bean or a sugared rim.

So perhaps it is time to start your day the Italian way! 

“prima di tutto il caffè” – but first of all, coffee

Italian saying

Share with: