The Giadzy guide to getting your caffè fix in Italy.
There’s no country with a stronger coffee culture than Italy, with deeply rooted traditions that feel as if they’ve been around for centuries. Italians have such strong feelings about their caffè that it may come as a surprise that the iconic espresso was only invented in 1901!
If you’re visiting Italy, there are a few things to know about getting your daily java fix. Because Italians are so protective of their coffee traditions, American-style coffee shops are very rare—don’t expect to be able to get your favorite specialty drinks here. But once you get into the Italian way of caffeinating, you may find you’ll never want to go back.
Not sure if the establishment you’re walking past is a bar or a café? It’s probably both! It’s extremely common for businesses to offer both coffee and alcoholic drinks, since both are typically enjoyed under different circumstances during much of the day. Going between business meetings? You might stop in for an afternoon espresso as a quick pick-me-up. Having a casual lunch with friends? It may be time for a refreshing aperitivo like a spritz. If you’re enjoying that vacation life and want to combine the two, order a caffè corretto. It’s an espresso spiked with a shot of liqueur, often grappa, that’s typically enjoyed by the older generation. It pairs perfectly with people-watching on the piazza.
When it comes time to order, a basic “un caffè, per favore” will get you an espresso. (It’s extremely uncommon to order espresso by name, and you’ll probably get a strange look from your barista if you do!) The other thing that may come as a surprise is that you’ll pay after you’re done. Getting a coffee to go is extremely unusual—most cafés don’t even stock to-go cups—as the idea is that you stop in for coffee break, enjoy your drink, and then continue with your day. Italians don’t believe in multitasking! Focus on the coffee, chat with a friend, and, when you’re done, settle up with your barista.
To enjoy the typical Italian breakfast, stop in for a cappuccino and a cornetto (the Italian version of a croissant, a bit sweeter and often found filled with jam or cream). After noon, it’s less common to see people drinking coffee drinks with milk in them, but it's not frowned upon if you prefer a macchiato after lunch. Whether in Italy or at home, Giada especially loves to take an afternoon break for cappuccino and a little something sweet. Here, again, Italians have a clever two-for-one: affogato. Order this at a gelateria and you’ll get a shot of espresso poured over a scoop of gelato for a creamy, frosty summertime treat.
Here are a few Italian coffee terms to know:
Americano: If you prefer drip coffee, you’re in for a surprise: It just doesn’t exist in Italy. The closest you’ll get is an Americano, which is an espresso shot topped with lots of hot water so it’s less intense.
Caffè: What we know as espresso, the coffee most commonly consumed across the country. Order it lungo (long) for a touch more water, or ristretto (short) for a smaller, more intense brew.
Cappuccino: An espresso with a small amount of steamed milk and a substantial cap of milk foam. You won’t get any cinnamon on top here, as you often see in American cafés.
Caffè latte: If you love your lattes, don’t forget to order them this way! Asking for a “latte” alone will get you a cup of cold milk. While this drink is made with more milk than a cappuccino, don’t be surprised if it’s still much smaller than the lattes you’re used to.
Shakerato: The perfect drink to beat the heat, this is made by taking a shot of hot espresso, tons of ice, and some simple syrup and shaking vigorously in a cocktail shaker until delightfully frothy and refreshing. If you order one, it might arrive looking more like a cocktail than a coffee! You'll often see these served in a martini glass.