Deciphering an Italian Coffee Menu: A Cheat’s Guide

Coffee in Italy is in a different league. Bars use high-quality beans and their machines have brewed thousands of cups of coffee, the taste of which is infused into each new cup.

I’ve probably kept a small coffee plantation in business by chugging more cups of Italian coffee than I remember. Choose the right brew for you with my handy guide to deciphering an Italian coffee menu.

in italian coffee menu listing the different types of coffee in italy
Menu in an Italian bar

Italian Coffee Menu Cheat’s Guide

Most of us have a favourite type of coffee and will often look for an equivalent when travelling. So if you are looking for the Italian version of your Starbucks latte (other coffee shops are available), here’s a quick guide to help you. That said, I urge you to try one of the other types of coffee drinks in Italy.

If you drink this at home…You might like this coffee in Italy…

Espresso

Espresso. Easy peasy.

Filter coffee 

Caffè Lungo. This will be stronger than your coffee drink at home but Caffè Americano served in Italian bars is rarely good

Cappuccino

Cappuccino. This will be shorter and stronger than you are used to. If you want a longer and weaker drink, opt for a caffè latte

Iced coffee

Caffè freddo or caffè shakerato for something more special.

Decaffeinated coffee 

Caffè d’orzo or decaffeinated versions of standard coffees

Unlike back home, you don’t choose the size of coffee. In Italy, the volume of coffee is dictated by the type.

Popular Types of Italian Coffees

1. Caffè    

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

It is served in a small cup with sugar to hand if needed. Many Italians add sugar to their caffè. I don’t, which baffles my friends.

A lingering crema, the surface foam made by the oils in the coffee beans, indicates a good quality coffee.

small espresso coffee in a glass on a wooden board

2. Caffè lungo    

If an espresso is too strong for you or you want a longer drink, I recommend ordering a caffè lungo. But don’t expect the long coffee you might drink in a coffee shop at home. A caffè lungo is an espresso topped up with the same volume of steaming water.

I usually order a caffè or a caffè lungo in an Italian bar.

3. Caffè Americano  

You might be tempted to order a caffè Americano if you usually drink filter coffee. Resist the urge.

This is more dilute than a caffè lungo but shorter and stronger than a drip coffee back home. In some bars, you’ll be served an espresso in a larger cup and hot water in a small jug to dilute the coffee.

The result is rarely good.

4. Cappuccino

Cappuccino is Italy’s most famous coffee. It is made with espresso, milk and frothy steamed milk in equal proportions.

I never drink a cappuccino at home but I will happily order one at the bar in Italy. A cappuccino in Italy has much more flavour than at home, largely because it doesn’t come in the vat-sized measures you might be used to.

cappucino italian coffee drink in a white cup on a saucer

In Italy, this is considered a breakfast drink and ordering a cappuccino after 11 am goes against the grain of Italian coffee culture. Sipping a cappuccino after eating is also a no-no. Italians regard hot drinks with milk as “heavy” and don’t drink them before or after eating.

Of course, it’s entirely up to you when you order a cappuccino. A barista will not refuse to serve you your frothy cup but steel yourself for their raised eyebrows and judgemental look.

5. Caffè latte

caffè latte is for you if you like a weaker, milky coffee drink. It consists of one part espresso to two parts hot milk, topped with milk foam.

Don’t ask for a latte when ordering. As this translates as milk, you will be served exactly that.

6. Caffé macchiato

A caffé macchiato is one of my favourite Italian coffees. It is an espresso that is stained with milk.

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

Latte macchiato is also available. This is warm milk stained with a shot of espresso.

Macchiato is an adjective in Italian, meaning stained. If you just ask for thisthe barista will not know if you want a caffè macchiato or a latte macchiato. You will need to be specific.

tall glass of coffee layered with milk and froth

7. Caffé macchiatone

A macchiatone is a weaker version of a caffè macchiato and is a popular type of coffee in the Veneto region of Italy. Served in a cappuccino cup, it has the same amount of coffee but a little more milk.

8. Caffè ristretto

This is one for a real caffeine addict. Also known as caffè corto, a ristretto comes close to sucking on a coffee bean.

You’ll be bouncing off the walls of the Uffizi Galleries in the afternoon.  

9. Caffè marrochino

Created in Piedmont, caffè marrochino consists of an espresso shot, cocoa powder and milk froth, served in a glass. It’s similar to a Cafe Mocha in your local coffee shop. In some regions of northern Italy, thick cocoa or Nutella is added.

10. Caffè cioccolato

This is my new Italian coffee crush. I tried my first one in Rome a few years ago and never looked back.

Caffè cioccolato is a shot of espresso mixed with cocoa. If you get a good one, its taste should linger long after the last sip.

11. Caffè corretto

Welcome to Italy’s boozy coffee.

Caffè corretto is an espresso shot mixed with a small amount of alcohol. This is typically grappa, but can be sambuca or brandy.

Usually, you will be served a ready-made caffè corretto with the alcohol already added to the espresso shot. In some cases, you’ll get a separate shot glass of alcohol to allow you to add the amount that you want.

12. Caffé shakerato

Caffé shakerato is a typical summer coffee drink in Italy. It is made by vigorously shaking a shot of espresso and ice, and is served in a tall glass, topped by a cloud of foam.

You can choose to have your caffè shakerato dolce or zuccherato (in which case sugar will be added) or amaro (bitter). Make it extra special by adding whipped cream, chocolate or a shot of sweet alcohol.

13. Caffé freddo

If you want something closer to a bog-standard iced coffee, order a caffé freddo. This is an espresso shaken with ice and sugar until it has a slightly frothy head.

14. Caffè affogato

I do love a caffè affogato and often make it at home. In my view, you can’t go wrong with something that is part coffee, part dessert. It is made by adding a shot of espresso to a scoop of vanilla ice cream in a glass.

15. Caffè con panna 

Feeliong decadent? Then, ask for a caffè con panna.

You can order this shot of espresso topped with a generous dollop of whipped cream in an Italian patisserie (pasticceria).

coffee in a small red cup topped with whipped cream

16. Caffè d’orzo

Now for something a little different. Caffè d’orzo is a naturally caffeine-free drink made from barley (orzo). You can order it just like you would order regular coffee: for example; espressocappuccino and macchiato.

It’s a good option if you want to order a decaffeinated coffee in Italy. Alternatively, ask for one of the other coffee varieties adding the word decaffeinato (day-caff-een-AH-toe). Except for ristretto that is.

17. Caffè doppio

At the opposite end of the caffeine scale is the caffè doppio, or double espresso. Think of it as your caffeine turbo-boost for the day.

18. Caffè al ginseng 

I’ve yet to try caffè al ginseng. It’s a trendy coffee drink but reportedly tastes nothing like coffee.

Typically twice the volume of an espresso, it is prepared with ginseng root extract mixed with coffee. It has a (very) sweet and nutty flavour and is reputed to be an aphrodisiac.

19. Regional coffees

Go local and try one of the regional coffee twists as you travel across Italy.

Travel to Padua for a patavina, which combines espresso with cream, and is finished with a dash of mint syrup and a dusting of cocoa. Works for me.

Bicerin is a Turin speciality, comprising layers of coffee, chocolate and cream in a glass. Neopolitans enjoy their coffee with hazelnut flavouring.


And that’s a wrap!

“But what about my flat white?” I hear you cry. Sadly, you are unlikely to find it on an Italian coffee menu.

However, you may be able to buy one in big cities. Here, it is sold in the type of coffee shops that you may be more used to outside of Italy.

counter in coffee shop in italy laid with baked goods
Coffee shop in Florence

Equally, take-out coffee is not a thing in Italy, except for coffee shops like this one I found in Florence and from kiosks at the beach.

Buongusto!

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