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Tips When Getting Coffee at an Italian Bar

Latte art, coffee in coffee beans background

According to Italian expatriates and tourists, they have a hard time finding good coffee outside of their home country. Aside from the artisanal approach to roasting the beans and the quality of the Arabica itself, Italians have grown a unique coffee-drinking culture that even Italian cafes cannot transplant anywhere else in the world. Yes, in Italy, you drink coffee the Italian way or it’s the highway.

In case you’re wondering how you’ll be able to enjoy a cup of espresso without committing a faux pas, let us enlighten you on the rigors of drinking coffee in Italy:

Coffee in a Hurry

Just because it’s in Italian, it doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a Venti sized cup for you in the bar. Coffee here is as large as a cup of espresso anywhere else – just right enough for you to finish in two or three quaffs. Loafing, relaxing, taking your time to chat with your friends are generally accepted  behaviors in café’s all over the world, this is not so in Italy. Since bars can get relatively full quick, you are expected to drink your coffee within 5 minutes and be well on your way. Don’t worry since your coffee will come at a temperature that’s just right for drinking straight without scalding you.

Stand Up for Your Cup

Italian bars are standing room only. You get to stand shoulder to shoulder with people at the counter while you savor your cup. Although there are a few tables and chairs, sitting is a privilege and certainly a value addition in the eyes of the bar’s owner. Expect to pay extra if you want to rest your legs while enjoying your cup.

Pay the Cashier His Due First

Coffee preparation is an exact art for the barista. He or she will have to grind the coffee and roast it to perfection. Since artistry takes a while, the custom is for you to pay the cashier first before you order to make efficient use of your time. Some cashiers give you a strip of paper in order to give to the barista to confirm your order. Just hand in your ticket and wait for your cup while the barista is doing his art.

Milk is a Capital Offense at Night and the Afternoon

Drinking cappuccino or latte is only allowed in the morning and never after a meal. The Italians believe that a full stomach cannot digest milk and some of them will give you sinister looks if you break this rule. This sacrilege is forgiven if you’re a kid.

Italian Coffee Vocabulary

  • OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACaffè – It’s all espresso, all the time. There is no distinction for espresso in Italy because it’s their standard cup’o Joe. Don’t order espresso if you don’t want to get strange looks.
  • Latte – Milk
  • Cappuccino – Coffee with hot, foamed milk. Again, this is only allowable in the mornings. Beyond 11 a.m., the cup becomes a sacrilege.
  • Caffè macchiato – Coffee dashed with milk.
  • Latte macchiato – Milk dashed with coffee.
  • Caffè Americano – the Italian baristas’ approximation of what Americans believe coffee to be.
  • Caffè Lungo – the slow pulling of roasted coffee from the machine which requires the use of a lot of water.
  • Of course, don’t forget to smile and say “Prendiamo un caffè?” if you meet a new acquaintance because nothing quite seals a friendship like a cup of coffee.

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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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