Italian coffee - cappuccino

The ultimate guide to Italian coffee

I recently wrote all about breakfast in Italy, so I thought I’d follow up with a post dedicated to the centerpiece of the first meal of the day in the bel paese: the coffee!

Coffee is everywhere in Italy. It’s the number one breakfast beverage, it often follows lunch and dinner, and it’s drunk throughout the day, too. When I moved into my apartment, the landlord had left us a coffee pot just in case we didn’t have our own. There’s even a coffee machine at my gym!

There are many different types of Italian coffee and I’ve done my best to cover them all here. Did I miss any? Please let me know in the comments!

Read on for everything you need to know about coffee in Italy!

Italian coffee - cappuccino

The ultimate guide to Italian coffee

Where can you get coffee in Italy?

A bar

The place to go for coffee in Italy is the bar. They’re everywhere – even most villages have a bar that serves coffee, pastries, sandwiches, drinks and sometimes light meals.

Check out my post on breakfast in Italy for all you need to know about ordering at a bar.

A pasticceria

Many bakeries double as bars, so if you see a pasticceria that serves coffee, you know you’ll be in for great pastries.

Cafés

Cafès and coffee houses where you can sit and talk or work aren’t as ubiquitous as bars in Italy, but they do exist and are becoming more and more common. 

Restaurants

You can also get coffee at restaurants in Italy because it’s extremely common to have an espresso or caffè macchiato after a meal.

When I worked in restaurants in the US, it wasn’t uncommon for people to drop in for coffee and dessert. This isn’t really done in Italy, at least in my experience. If you go to a restaurant, it’s expected that you’ll eat a meal.

Italian coffee - caffè latte

Italian coffee culture

It’s quick

In the US and other countries, meeting for coffee means sitting down and chitchatting over your mug for a long time, possibly even hours. In Italy, that’s not generally the case.

Like I said above, there are some places where you can sit and talk or work with your coffee, but usually, getting coffee in Italy is a short affair. 

As I said in my breakfast post, it’s often drunk while standing at the bar – you can be in and out in just a few minutes if you choose.

Takeaway coffee in Italy

Takeaway coffee is nowhere near as common in Italy as it is in the US and elsewhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s not available. 

In fact, it’s become much more common because of the COVID-19 pandemic. For a while, dining/drinking in was forbidden, but takeaway was allowed. When these restrictions made it impossible to go to a bar for coffee, bar owners quickly adapted by offering takeaway coffees. Now, many places offer coffee to go.

If you’d like to take your coffee away, ask for it “da asporto” or “da portare via”.

to go cup of coffee in Italy
If you’re in Rome, go to Marigold for a great cup of coffee!

One size fits all

Ordering a small, medium or large coffee isn’t generally a possibility in Italy. That’s right, the sizes at Starbucks that sound Italian are actually just marketing malarky.

That said, I’ve seen some bars that offer coffee in different sizes, but it’s not a norm by any means. 

The water back

At many bars, you’ll be given a small glass of water with your coffee. I’m not quite sure on the rule here – some people seem to drink it before they drink their coffee to cleanse their palate, and some people drink it after to get rid of any residual bitterness. Go wild, I say, and do whatever you want.

Italian coffee throughout the day

In the morning, many Italians have their coffee at a bar, usually with a pastry. If you want a larger coffee with lots of milk, this is the time to get it. As I’ve said in other posts, Italians don’t tend to drink big, milky coffees after lunch or dinner because milk is thought to cause issues with digestion.

After lunch or dinner, it’s common to have an espresso or a caffè macchiato, as I mentioned above.

Coffee breaks throughout the day are also common. When I was working in an office full time, we usually had two coffee breaks – one mid-morning, around 10 or so, and one mid-afternoon, at about 3. There was also a coffee at breakfast, and one after lunch, too!

Italian coffee culture at home: the Moka pot

I have never been into an Italian home that didn’t have a Moka pot. Some people have replaced them with fancy Nespresso machines, but I’d be willing to bet that even the people who have keep their Moka pots somewhere.

Odds are, if you stay at someone’s home or rent an Airbnb, you will have your coffee from a Moka pot.

How to use a Moka pot

  1. There are three pieces to a Moka pot: the bottom, where the water goes, the basket, where the coffee goes, and the top, where the coffee comes out. Start by unscrewing the top from the bottom.
  2. Remove the basket and fill the base with cold water, just until it hits the underside of the valve on the side.
  3. Put the basket into the base. Fill it with coffee. Some people pile it on into a little mountain and others level it off or tap it down with the back of a spoon. You do you, I say.
  4. Screw the top of the pot back on, and place the pot on a burner.
  5. The Moka will wheeze as the coffee comes through. You know it’s ready when you hear a gurgling sound.
  6. Enjoy your coffee!

Types of coffee in Italy

So, you’re at the bar and not sure what to order. Let’s take a look at all the different types of Italian coffee available.

Hot coffees

Caffè (espresso)

Espresso is where all Italian coffee begins. Each of the hot drinks that follow start with a shot of espresso (with the exception of Caffè al Ginseng).

You can simply order “un caffè,” and a tiny cup of strong, hot espresso will arrive. Some people order short coffees “al vetro”, which means the coffee will come in a small glass. 

In northern Italy, this type of coffee is sometimes referred to as a “caffè liscio”. Elsewhere, it may be called “caffè normale”. This is to distinguish between a regular caffè and a caffè macchiato (more on that below).

Caffè doppio

Need an extra caffeine boost? Order a double espresso, or caffè doppio.

Macchiato

A caffè macchiato is an espresso with a bit of milk. You can ask for the milk to be hot (caffè macchiato caldo) or cold (caffè macchiato freddo).

Macchiatone

Until I moved to Padua, I wasn’t aware of the existence of the macchiatone. In fact, it originated in Venice.

A macchiatone is basically a large caffè macchiato, but it’s still smaller than a cappuccino. 

Note that you might not find it outside of northern Italy.

Ristretto

A ristretto is an extra short espresso (yes, it’s possible to have a coffee that’s even smaller than a regular espresso in Italy).

Caffè lungo

A caffè lungo is an extra-long espresso. When making a caffè lungo, the barista will allow more water to come through the machine, lengthening the coffee.

Americano

Un caffè americano is espresso with hot water added. It resembles American filtered coffee in appearance, but it’s espresso based.

Cappuccino

A cappuccino is probably the most common Italian coffee to have at breakfast, and it’s essentially made the same way around the world – with espresso and steamed milk, with lots of milk foam. Some people sprinkle cocoa powder on top.

Remember, coffee in Italy generally just comes in one size, so cappuccini in Italy will most likely be smaller than what you’re used to outside of the country.

cappuccino and a sweet croissant in Italy
Cappuccino e cornetto, the typical Italian breakfast in a bar

Caffè latte or latte macchiato

If anyone can explain the difference between caffè latte and latte macchiato to me, I would be very grateful!

Perhaps there’s no difference, or maybe using one term over another is just a regional preference, but if you order either of these, you’ll get a hot drink that’s made with lots of milk and a single shot of espresso, similar to a “latte” elsewhere. Don’t just order a “latte” in Italy, though, because it simply means “milk”.

Marrocchino

Similar to a mocha in other countries, a marrocchino is espresso with milk and cocoa powder. I never order this, and I have no idea why, because yum.

Caffè con panna

Feeling decadent? Order a caffè con panna, or coffee with whipped cream.

Caffè corretto

Hungover? On your way to the club and need a boost? Get yourself a caffè corretto, which is espresso with a glug of hard liquor.

Caffè al ginseng

This low-caffeine option is sweetened with ginseng extract and sugar, and also contains instant coffee and powdered cream or milk.

Types of decaf coffees in Italy

Want the taste without the caffeine? Go for a decaf Italian coffee!

Caffè deca/Hag

No, I’m not calling you names – Hag is a brand of decaf coffee in Italy. “Hag” has actually become a proprietary eponym like “Xerox” or “Kleenex”, so some people will refer to decaf simply as “Hag”.

You can also order a “caffè deca” or if you’re feeling like practicing your Italian vowel sounds, “caffè decaffeinato” (day-CAF-ay-eee-nah-toe).

Caffè d’orzo

Caffè d’orzo isn’t actually coffee at all – it’s a hot beverage made from ground barley. Does it taste like coffee? Apparently, it shares some of coffee’s bitterness, but I’m afraid I can’t confirm or deny that claim as I’ve never had it.

It is caffeine free though, so if you’re sensitive to stimulants, give caffè d’orzo a try.

Types of cold coffee in Italy

There are also coffees to cool you down on hot Italian days!

Note that ordering any of them outside of spring and summer might get you an odd look or two, or they might not be available at all.

Caffè freddo

Caffè freddo is espresso that’s brewed and put into a bottle and stored in the fridge. It’s the perfect beverage to sip on those boiling days when even thinking about drinking something hot makes you sweat.

Many bars add sugar to the coffee while it’s hot. You can ask if they have it sweetened (zuccherato) or unsweetened (non zuccherato or senza zucchero).

Caffè shakerato

Caffè shakerato is another antidote to a hot day. It’s coffee that’s made fresh and then cooled down with ice in – yup, you’ve got it – a cocktail shaker.

Italian coffee - caffè shakerato
Caffè shakerato

Crema al caffè

Crema al caffè is a rich, nearly frozen mixture of cream, coffee and sugar. It’s almost like a very soft, liquidy gelato. You can usually find it being stirred continuously in what looks like a little slushy machine.

Granita di caffè

A common breakfast food in Sicily, granita di caffè is shaved ice with coffee, and it’s often served with a dollop of whipped cream on top. They make a great one at Tazza d’Oro near the Pantheon in Rome.

Affogato

An affogato is the perfect pick-me-up on a hot summer day: one scoop of gelato is “drowned” in a shot of espresso.

Specialty coffees in Italy

Many bars will offer their own specialty coffees. One of Rome’s oldest bars, Sant’Eustachio, is famed for its delicious coffee and unique offerings.

Specialty coffees by region

As with all other things food and drink related in Italy, there are regional coffees in Italy, too! Many of these contain sweet ingredients or alcohol.

Piedmont – Bicerin

Hot chocolate + coffee + cream = Bicerin. Sounds heavenly to me.

Veneto – Caffè Padovano or Pedrocchi

Cool mint foam with cocoa powder on top floats on hot espresso in Padua’s namesake coffee. Try it at Caffè Pedrocchi in the city center – you won’t be disappointed.

Italian coffee - caffè pedrucchino in Padua, Italy

Caffè Veneziano

Attributed to the many Americans and Anglosaxons who found their way to Venice over the centuries, this Venetian coffee contains whiskey, sugar, cocoa and whipped cream.

Le Marche – Moretta Fanese

Created to warm cold fisherman after a day on the sea, la Moretta Fanese packs a punch. Anice, rum and cognac are heated and mixed with lemon zest and coffee in this signature drink of Le Marche.

Campania – Caffè Nocciola

Coffee, hazelnut butter (Nutella, for example), powdered sugar and whipped cream combine to make this decadent Neapolitan drink.

Puglia – Caffè Leccese

On a hot summer day in Puglia, order a Caffè Leccese, which is sweetened with almond milk and served on ice.

Calabria – Caffè Calabrese

Touted as a great digestif, Caffè Calabrese consists of coffee, sugar, liquorice powder and either brandy or cognac.

Sicily – Caffè Ammantecato

Typical of the Trapani area, this coffee is made in a Moka pot, but replaces the water with almond milk, and sometimes, a bit of cinnamon.

Tuscany – Ponce alla Livornese

A variation of English “punch,” in Livorno, they replaced the classic tea with coffee and added some booze. Today you can find multiple versions of this drink, but the classic is made with Rumme, which is made with alcohol, sugar and rum-flavored caramel.

Val d’Aosta – Caffè alla Valdostana

Made in a wooden container for sharing called a grolla, Caffè alla Valdostana is made with coffee, grappa or genepì, sugar, lemon and orange zest, cloves, cinnamon and juniper berries. Once the ingredients have been added to the grolla, the rim is coated in grappa-dampened sugar and set alight, leaving a caramelized edge once the flames burn out.

Trentino Alto Adige – Il Parampampoli

The recipe for this one is kept under wraps, but the main ingredients are coffee, grappa, wine, sugar, honey and spices for warming up chilly bodies.

Napoli’s caffè sospeso

In Naples, there’s a unique coffee tradition that allows people to drink one coffee at a bar but pay for two. That way, if anyone in need comes in, they can have a coffee for free. Known as “caffè sospeso,” or “suspended coffee,” there are many bars throughout the city that follow this tradition.

For more on caffè sospeso, check out this article.

I hope you found this guide to Italian coffee helpful. Which one’s your favorite? Do you have a favorite coffee bar in Italy? Share it in the comments!

Want more Italian coffee?

Here’s my list of the best cafés in Padua.

Here’s my post on breakfast at Caffè Sicilia in Noto, Sicily.

More Italian foodie guides

Check out my guide to breakfast in Italy.

Here’s my post on the traditional Italian meal structure.

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3 Comments

  1. wow , what a amazing coffee culture and history in italy . .I don’t want to miss italian coffee in my 1st tour. I am going to italy in this week . Can I know ,where the best coffeeshop in italy rome ? please dear help me to enjoying Italian coffee .please please …

    1. Hi there! Thanks for reading. Rome is full of great coffee shops! For traditional Italian coffees, go to Tazza d’Oro, Sant’Eustachio and Casa Manfredi. For specialty coffees, try Faro and Marigold. Enjoy!

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