Last updated on November 6th, 2023
Looking for the low down on the Italian coffee scene?
The Italian coffee culture is so much more varied and complex than the espresso for which Italy is known and loved.
If you’re coming to Italy, this guide will help you feel confident ordering at the bar and feel pleased with your coffee selection.
Let’s go over the basics and beyond:
- What is Il bar?
- How do Italians drink coffee
- Where to order coffee
- When to drink coffee
- Types of coffee in Italy
- How to order coffee in Italy
- Best coffee brands
- Tips for drinking coffee
- What to bring home
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What is il Bar?
In English, we all know that a bar refers to a place where you drink alcohol and food may or may not be served.
In Italy, however, a bar does serve alcohol but is so much more than that. It is a meeting point for breakfast, coffee, snacks, drinks, aperitifs, on the go lunches and quick sit down lunches.
Italian bars typically open very early, anywhere from 5:30-7:00am and close late, between 8:00-10:00pm because from the first coffee in the morning served up to construction workers to the after dinner night cap, the bar is a way of life in Italy, a place most Italians visit on a daily basis.
How Do Italians Drink Coffee
- Standing at the bar: it is very traditional for Italians to grab breakfast every morning before going to work. It is a bit confusing to foreigners but the breakfast coffee routine is quick and satisfying. Italians order their pastry and eat it standing at the counter space where their coffee is served and off they go. Breakfast is about a 3-5 minute ordeal.
- At home with a moka pot: Italians make coffee at home using a moka pot, a method of brewing coffee over the stovetop through pressured steam. Learn more about using a moka pot here.
- Capsules: nowadays many Italians now have a disposable capsule coffee maker at home. Nespresso is the most popular but many other Italian brands such as Illy and Lavazza have come out with their own versions.
- Sitting at the bar: the other way to drink coffee at a bar is sitting at a table. In casual bars there is no table service. You must order at the counter and bring it to the table. At fancier bars or downtown in cities you will have to pay a surcharge for table service.
Where to Order Coffee in Italy
As I said, bars are such a fundamental part of Italian life that you will literally see them five to a block, in grocery stores, gas stations, train stations, on the train, in gyms and as kiosks in the mall but there are also so many other places to order coffee as well!
- Restaurants: All restaurants will serve coffee as it is custom to drink coffee after every meal in Italy.
- Macchinette: keep your eyes peeled for vending machines on the side of the road, in hospitals, doctors offices, and various stations that sell hot coffee. They cost about 50 cents and you can even get a cappuccino or hot chocolate.
- Kiosks: small coffee shops similar to bars in places like malls and fairs located between stores.
- On trains: A cart will come by when you are on the train selling coffee, cold beverages and snacks. You can also head to the “bar car” for more choices.
- Hotels: most hotels serve coffee at their bar. You can either sit down inside or outside or stand at the bar.
Insider’s Tip: If you are looking for a sparkling clean restroom while you are out and about have a coffee at a bar in a hotel at the counter which will be inexpensive and then you have the excuse to use their pristine lady’s room.
When To Order Coffee in Italy
- (Prima) colazione means “(first) breakfast” and refers to the first coffee and food you eat in the morning.
- Seconda colazione or “second breakfast” is the English equivalent of a mid-morning snack. If you see Italians at bars anytime after 9:30 they are most likely having a mid-morning coffee and perhaps a small something to eat.
- Dopo pranzo means “after lunch”. It’s customary for Italians to drink espresso after lunch without fail. Not only does it give you a little jolt but it also clears your palate.
- Il pomeriggio or “in the afternoon” is just as good a time to drink coffee as any other. Bars often have a bit of a busy moment after lunch, have a lull and then pick up again after school gets out around 4:00-4:30 pm when kids need an afternoon snack and parents need a little pick me up.
- Dopo cena refers to the “after dinner” coffee which many but all Italians drink. I have found as a generalization my Italian friends who are most Italian meaning they grew up in a very traditional and moderate Italian family drink coffee after dinner whereas other Italians I know who are more international (have a foreign parent or who have lived abroad) never adopted this practice of an after dinner coffee.
The fact is that Italians drink coffee anytime of the day. The more the better!
Types of Coffee in Italy
For a comprehensive list of coffee dinks in Italy read 40+ Ways to Drink Coffee in Italy + Pronunciations.
|Italian Name||English Translation||Description||Pronunciation||Note|
|Caffè (espresso)||coffee||espresso||ka-FEY||caffè means espresso. Some bars may indicate caffè espresso to avoid confusion with foreigners|
|Caffè in vetro||coffee in glass||espresso served in a small glass cup||ka-FEY in veh-troh||may not be on menu|
|Caffè macchiato||dirtied/stained coffee||ka-FEY maw-kee-aw-toh|
|Caffè macchiato freddo||dirtied cold coffee||espresso with a touch of cold milk||ka-FEY maw-kee-aw-toh freh-doh||not on menu|
|Caffè macchiato in tazza grande||dirtied coffee in a large cup||espresso with a touch of milk in a large cup||ka-FEY maw-kee-aw-toh in tazz-uh grawnd-eh||not on menu|
|Macchiatone||big dirty (coffee)||espresso with a little less than about half the milk that is in a cappuccino||maw-kee-aw-toh-NEY||not on menu|
|Decaffeinato||decaf||decaf espresso||deh-caf-eh-naw-toh||you can order any coffee drink decaf. Just ask|
|Caffè corretto||correct coffee||espresso with a shot of your choice of liquor||ka-FEY koh-reh-toh|
|Caffè d’orzo||orzo coffee||a hot drink made from orzo, similar to espresso but caffeine free||ka-FEY dohr-soh||You can order orzo either in a tazza grande or piccola (in a big or small cup)|
|Caffè al ginseng||ginseng coffee||a hot drink made from ginseng, an asian plant that is less strong than coffee||ka-FEY all gin-sengeh|
|Caffè doppio||double coffee||two espressos in one cup||ka-FEY doh-pee-oh||Still served in a small cup|
|Caffè ristretto||short coffee||an espresso with even less water resulting in a stronger taste||ka-FEY ree-streh-toh|
|Caffè lungo||long coffee||an espresso with a bit of hot water added to it||ka-FEY loon-goh||ask for “un po’ di latte a parte” for a bit of milk on the side|
|Caffè americano||american coffee||an espresso served with a small pitcher of hot water||ka-FEY uh-mehr-ee-cohn-oh||Because bars serve you a small pitcher of hot water, you decide how strong or weak to make your coffee|
|Caffè freddo||cold coffee||pre-prepared espresso with added sugar stored in the fridge||ka-FEY fresh-doh||a summer favorite. Cannot order in the winter|
|Shakerato||shaken (coffee)||espresso, ice and sugar shaken in a cocktail shaker until frothy||shaw-ker-aw-toh||another summer favorite|
|Cappuccino||little hood||espresso with equal parts steamed milk and foam||cah-poo-chee-noh||the real Italian cappuccino is served warm, not piping hot.|
|Cappuccino con cacao||little hood with cocoa powder||espresso with steamed milk, foamed milk and a dusting of cocoa powder on top||cah-poo-chee-no cohn caw-cow|
|Latte macchiato||dirtied milk||hot milk mixed with a small amount of espresso||law-teh maw-kee-aw-toh|
|Caffè latte||coffee milk||espresso mixed with slightly more hot milk than is used to make a cappuccino||ka-FEY law-teh||The Italian version of a caffè latte is going to be much smaller than in other countries.|
|Caffè marocchino||Moroccan espresso||layers of cocoa powder, espresso and foamed milk topped with a sprinkling of cocoa powder||ka-FEY mar-ow-kee-noh||served in a small glass|
Note: Not all these coffees you will see on Italian menus. Many are inventions or preferences but not actual coffee drinks.
How To Order Coffee in Italy
So, you made it to the bar, now what do you say? Start by ordering what you want at the cash register Vorrei un caffè, per favore (may I please have an espresso). You will then be expected to pay. Coffee costs between 1€ and 1.30€. Hang on to that receipt though. That is your golden ticket!
Next, head over to the counter and ask the barista un caffè per piacere (one espresso, please), placing your receipt on the counter. They may or may not look at it. You won’t need to ask for sugar or milk because there should be a small pitcher and sugar dispenser on the bar. Should it not be, kindly ask posso avere un po’ di zucchero/latte, per favore? (may I please have some sugar/milk please?). If you are ordering many drinks the waiter might ask you if you would like a tray vorrebbe un vassoio? You can either answer Si, grazie or No, grazie.
If you change your mind and decide you would like something else that wasn’t on your receipt, simply ask Posso aggiungere qualcos’altro? (May I order something else?). They will most likely just give you what you want and then you can go pay when you are finished. Here you can read our full article detailing how to Order Coffee In Italy,
Fact: Some bars offer you a tiny shot of water in a glass with your coffee, free of charge.
Best Coffee Brands
These are Italy’s most beloved coffee brands. You can certainly find others such as supermarket brands but we recommend these! For more specific information on each of these coffee brands read Italian Coffee Brands – To Enjoy in Italy and at Home
- Caffè Motta
- Caffè Milano
Tips for Drinking Coffee in Italy
- Drink your coffee at the bar with other Italians. Perhaps ask them what they like to get to eat and try it yourself!
- Pay first and then bring your “scontrino” or receipt to the counter to get your coffee. Many bars ask this of you.
- If you are at a casual bar no one is going to come and take your order. If you’re at a fancier place and you see a waiter they will come and bring you a menu.
- Branch out: try something new or ask what the person next to you is drinking.
- Try different bars! They are all so different, attract different people, use different coffee and milk. Love your favorite but also try others.
- Ask for the best bar from a local. You won’t be sorry – they will give you an authentic experience for sure!
- If you do take your coffee and go sit at a table you are not expected to clear it but it’s a nice thing to do. If you are getting up anyhow and walking by the counter, place your cup and saucer on the side.
- Always say arrivederci when you leave a bar, even if you say it as you are walking out. It is considered good manners to always say goodbye even if no one seems to be listening or they won’t hear you.
If you are drinking your coffee at breakfast time be sure to read Italian Breakfast – A Traveler’s Guide and How To Order Coffee in Italy – Step-by-Step + Tips
Bringing Coffee Home as a Souvenir
Bringing coffee back is a fantastic gift because it packs well, won’t spill and make a mess and it is readily available.
Plus, who doesn’t like to drink and receive coffee?
The most common way to see coffee sold in Italy is vacuum-packed in bricks. It is already ground and readily available at supermarkets, small mom and pop stores that sell a bit of everything and in specialty coffee shops. You can also opt for whole beans but they are not as common or ground coffee that comes in tins (such as Illy) which makes for a better presentation.
Coffee is definitely one of our top picks for souvenirs! Check out all our top picks in Best Food Souvenirs from Italy – Handpicked by Someone Who Lives Here!
Coffee in Italy Vocabulary
You might find these words helpful the next time you are ordering:
- Sugar – zucchero
- Counter – il banco
- Where do I pay? – Dove posso pagare?
- May I pay with a card? – Posso pagare con una carta?
- May I have a bit of milk on the side please? – Posso avere un po’ di latte da parte per favore?
- Scontrino – receipt
- Take-away – da portare via
- Cucchiaino – small spoon
Coffee in Italy – FAQ
Yes! You can order any Italian coffee drink decaf. They may charge you slightly more.
There is no real age but children tend to be interested in drinking caffè latte or cappuccino around age 10-13.
So true! Italians would never drink a milk-based coffee beverage after lunch, especially after a meal. On the rare occasion you will see someone with a cappuccino in the afternoon with a sweet treat to pick them up but this is rare. Italians believe that drinking milk after a meal is heavy and will make digestion hard so if you want to fit it, don’t get caught drinking one after noon!
After the recent pandemic you see a lot more take-away in Italy, including coffee. It has always been around but the concept is different. Italians take coffee away to drink sitting down (or standing with other Italians) but they don’t drink it as they walk. This is something you never see!