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Drinking Coffee in Italy

coffee in italy

You probably start your day with a large cup of coffee made from an electric drip coffeemaker. There are a few things about drinking coffee in Italy that are a little bit different than what you might be accustomed to.

First – The word bar. It does not mean what you think it means. A “bar” means what we mean by a “cafe” in English. In Italy there is not a Starbucks in sight, but you will find a bar on almost every street. The local bar is open from early morning to late in the evening and serves morning coffee and pastries and then usually sandwiches at lunch, back to small cups of espresso in the afternoon and then it’s onto cocktails and light snacks in the early evening. The bar is where locals meet and discuss the days events, the recent football match, children stop by after school for a snack and friends meet up after work for a spritz and conversation.

Tavola vs Banco

Drinking coffee in Italy is an all day affair and you had better be quick about it. There is not much lingering over your cup here. The process goes like this. You first find the cashier, cassa and pay for what you would like. You will get a receipt that you then take to the bar, with a small coin if you wish, and place your order with the barista. You then drink your coffee quickly, standing up, at the bar. If you would like to sit down, know that the price most likely doubles. There is always a price list posted with both sets of prices for standing up and sitting down at a table.

Learn the Lingo

You know what a cappuccino is, but what about a latte?  In Italian if you order a latte at the bar you will get a glass of milk. Probably not quite what you had in mind. If you want a very milky coffee ask for a cafe latte.

Another important rule to know is that Italians do not order cappuccinos or cafe lattes after about 11:00 am and certainly not after eating a meal. The reasoning behind this is that a big gulp of milk after a meal is terrible for your digestion. (Italians think about what is best for your digestion a lot) Rather order a short, sharp espresso, simply caffè in Italian. If you really need some milk in your coffee you can order a caffè macchiato, a shot of espresso with a “stain” of milk.

Cappuccino – 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foam

Ristretto – short espresso.

Lungo – long espresso.

Macchiato caldo – with hot milk.

Macchiato freddo – with cold milk.

In tazza grande – in the cappuccino cup.

Al vetro – in a glass.

Schiumato – with milk foam.

Marocchino – with cocoa powder and milk foam.

Con panna – with whipped cream.

Shakerato – shaken with ice.

Freddo – iced.

Corretto – with a shot of grapa or brandy

Where to Drink Coffee in Italy

Now you know the how, next is the where. Who has the best cup of coffee is a topic of much debate, but the following places are some of the team at Tour Italy’s favorites.


In winter, we love Sant Eustachio. With it’s closely guarded secret process, the sweet, creamy cup and the bright yellow packaging make this an eternal favorite. If you need a mid-afternoon pick me up, order a monechella. A shot of expresso with a dose of rich chocolate and topped with whipped cream. This small but sweet treat will power you through your afternoon of touring.

In summer we head to the nearby Tazzo D’oro and order an icy cafe granita. This is kind of a frozen coffee slushy. The dark coffee is layered with fresh whipped cream and will make you forget ever wanting a frappuccino.


It has been said that Italian espresso was born in Naples. The cup you will find here is Dark and bittersweet and always proceeded by a glass of water to clean your palate.

Our picks are Cafe Mexico with it’s bright logo and multiple locations, it is the first stop upon arriving in the city.

After a morning of touring we stop for a rest and an elegant sip at the historic Gran Caffe Gambrinus. This is also a great place for a midnight limoncello.

For the soccer fan, a must see is the Bar Nilo with it’s altar to to soccer legend Maradonna complete with a vial of tears of Neapolitans.


Venetian traders brought coffee to the watery city in the early 1600’s and it has been popular here for centuries since.

A rewarding splurge is to take a break at the gracious Cafe Florian which is the oldest coffee house in Venice.

It is well worth hunting down the Caffè del Doge. Even though it is not far from the famous Rialto bridge, this cafe is slightly off the beaten track.


The coffee you will find in Florence is smoother, lighter experience than the coffee you find in Rome and farther south.

The fashionable in the know head to Gucci museum cafe. Drink your cup among the glamorous set in this chic, book filled space.

Gaze at one of the statues of the famous David at the Caffe Rivoire on the Piazza della Signoria.

Making coffee at home

Most Italians use a Moka to make that first cup of coffee in the morning. This stovetop espresso machine’s iconic design makes a great cup of coffee, comes in all sizes – from 2 cups to 12 – and makes a fantastic souvenir of your Italian vacation.

In recent years the automatic Nespresso machines have become a very popular must-have item in young Italians kitchens. The easy pod delivery system, extensive range of brews and the endorsement of the movie star George Clooney have made Nespresso one of the fastest growing products in the european coffee market.

What are your favorite places for drinking coffee in Italy?

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By Priscila Siano (266 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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