How to Order Coffee in Italy Like a Pro!

Coffee culture is one of Italy’s sacred cows. Italians take coffee rules, rituals, customs and etiquette seriously.

You won’t find familiar coffee chains serving your favourite Iced Brown Sugar Oatmilk Shaken Espresso here. Instead, you take your place at the counter of a bar and down your caffè in a few sips.

To the uninitiated, learning how to order coffee in Italy can feel like navigating a cultural minefield. Move from being coffee clueless to a caffè connoisseur with my three-step guide to ordering coffee in Italy.

a cimbali coffee machine in an italian bar

This two-minute video is an excellent insight into modern-day Italian coffee culture.

Ordering Coffee in Italy

Ordering coffee in Italy can be daunting, particularly if you are jostling for space at a bar and don’t speak much Italian. Although it can seem chaotic, there is a system and if you follow these simple steps you’ll be fine.

One thing to understand is Italians rarely linger over a coffee. Instead, they chug their coffee in two or three sips at the bar’s counter and they’re on their way. An espresso is a quick caffeine refuel and an activity to punctuate the day.

Step 1: Find a Bar

In Italy, coffee is served in a bar (un bar). But this is a coffee shop and will not be like a bar back home. Although an Italian bar will sell sandwiches and alcohol, coffee is their main trade.

You won’t have a problem finding one. Bars are liberally sprinkled throughout Italian cities, towns and villages, reflecting their importance in Italian culture.

exterior of bar selling coffee in italy which has an orange sign saying bar

Step 2: Choose your coffee  

Before you approach the barista, you must decide which coffee type to order. I usually order an espresso, caffè lungo or a caffè macchiato.

The short, strong, single espresso is the default coffee drink in Italy. If you ask for a coffee (caffé) in an Italian bar, you will get an espresso

In touristy spots, the barista may assume you want a weaker coffee. To make it crystal clear that you really do want an espresso ask for a caffè normale.

small espresso coffee in a glass on a wooden board

Common types of Italian coffee

Here are popular types of coffee in Italy that are guaranteed to perk up your day. If you want a decaffeinated coffee, add the word decaffeinato (day-caff-een-AH-toe) after your coffee of choice.

  • Caffè – a short, strong espresso, served in a small cup with sugar to hand if you need it
  • Caffè lungo  – an espresso topped up with the same volume of steaming water
  • Cappuccino – Italy’s most famous coffee made with espresso, milk and frothy steamed milk in equal proportions
  • Caffè latte – a weaker, milky coffee drink, consisting of one part espresso to two parts hot milk, topped with milk foam.
  • Caffé macchiato – an espresso that is stained with milk
  • Caffè cioccolato – a shot of espresso mixed with cocoa (it’s sublime!)
  • Caffè corretto – an espresso shot mixed with a small amount of alcohol, typically grappa
  • Caffé freddo – an espresso shaken with ice and sugar until it has a slightly frothy head (like an iced coffee)
  • Caffè d’orzo – a naturally caffeine-free drink made from barley (orzo)
  • Caffè al ginseng – prepared with ginseng root extract mixed with coffee
cappucino italian coffee drink in a white cup on a saucer
The cappuccino is one of Italy’s most exports

cappuccino is considered a breakfast drink in Italy and ordering one after 11 a.m. will result in a few raised eyebrows. Drinking a cappuccino before or after eating is also a cultural no-no as Italians regard hot drinks with milk as “heavy”.  

Step 3: Order your coffee at the bar (al banca)

blond women standing next to coffee machine in a bar in italy

In some busy Italian bars, you pay first at the cash register (cassa). Ask for the coffee you want and hand over your money in exchange for a receipt. Don’t lose this!

However, in others, you order first and pay later. Settle up with the cashier when you have finished your coffee, surrendering the receipt the barista has given you.  

You will pay around €1 to drink an espresso at the bar in Italy. In Rome, coffee prices are regulated by the local government, provided customers drink at the counter.

Pro tip! If I’m unsure which ordering system is operating, I hang back for a minute and watch a local order. Then I copy him or her.

You order your coffee at the counter (bancone). If it’s busy, wait for a gap to open up and approach the counter.

Make eye contact with the barista and give him or her your order. A smile and a cheery “buongiorno” (bwon-JOR-noh), or “buona sera” (BWON-ah SAY-rah) if it’s after lunch, goes a long way. Place your receipt in front of you if you have already paid.

Although it may not be obvious, there is some order. Therefore, don’t push in front of people.

When the saucer and a spoon are placed on the counter next to you, your coffee is on its way. Drink it quickly when it arrives to make room for the next person.  

a caffe macchiato coffee drink in italy in a small glass on a white saucer

Sitting down to drink coffee in Italy (al tavolo)

You will pay more to linger over a coffee from the comfort of a chair. In bars that have tables – not all do – you are likely to be charged a premium for sipping your coffee al tavolo.

Sitting down is more acceptable in bars in touristy areas, even for Italians. Always check how much you will pay to drink your coffee before taking a seat

Handy Vocabulary

Download, print or share this handy infographic as a quick reference guide.

infographic of vocabulary for ordering food and drinks in an italian bar

Coffee Culture & Etiquette in Italy

  • Tipping – Whilst this may bring many North Americans out in hives, tipping is not expected in Italian bars. If you feel that you must tip, 10 to 20 cents is more than enough.
  • Forget about coffee-to-go – Grabbing a takeaway coffee is not a thing in Italy. This reflects the Italians’ unhurried approach to life.
  • Italian bars are not places to sit with your laptop – Confine your online world to the privacy of your hotel room. An Italian bar is a place to chat and enjoy your coffee Italy, not a place to crack on with emails.
a cimbali machine used to make coffee in italy
La Cimbali coffee machine, the workhorse of Italian bars

And that’s all there is to it!

I hope these tips on how to order coffee in Italy will be helpful for your next trip to Florence or Farfa, Umbria or Urbino and beyond. Don’t be daunted and remember that practice makes perfect.

Buongusto!

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