Throughout the day, Italians take their caffeine hits like fast jabs, thrown back in little cups whose handles are pinched between the thumb and forefinger, the rest of the fingers crested in the open air as the cup is hurtled up to the mouth, tipped up and plunked back down on the saucer.
For the uninitiated walking into a coffee shop in Italy, it may seem like there is no order. That is simply because there is not.
The art of ordering a coffee in Italy does not lie in the virtue of patience. Rather, it is whoever manages to catch the attention of the café staff first!
Locals casually walk into the coffee shop (called a ‘bar’ in Italian) and with a confident wave of their index finger, call out their order to the multi-tasking ‘barista’ who magically manages to recall not only the orders being yelled out but also knowing what those regulars mean when they simply say, ‘the usual’.
There are actually many ways to order an espresso, the coffee standard which is locally referred to simply as ‘un caffè’ – a coffee, but also an Italian tradition.
You can have your coffee ‘lungo’ (long – about 2-3 centimetres high in the cup instead of 1-2), ‘stretto’ (short – as in, most people’s dregs are longer!), ‘macchiato’ (literally stained with milk, so just a drizzle of foamy milk is added on top), ‘corretto’ (coffee ‘corrected’ with a shot of grappa, which in most parts means you take your espresso with a shot of grappa added to the coffee, but in Venice they drink the coffee first then swish out the coffee cup with grappa for an added punch!).
Then there are the fussy coffee takers of Italy who ask for their coffee in specific kinds of coffee cups – be it a request for a coffee in a larger cup usually used for cappuccino, a glass mug or in a shot glass.
In the mornings (and only in the mornings!), Italian coffee may be served with milk. This can be in the form of a cappuccino – served warm so as to be drinkable immediately – or perhaps ‘caffè latte’, coffee with milk. If you simply ask for a ‘latte’, you are asking for a glass of milk! Ask however for a ‘latte macchiato’ and you are requesting a cup of milk ‘stained’ with a shot of coffee, as opposed to the caffé latte which sees the milk poured into the shot of coffee.
Yes, there is a difference!
This coffee ritual takes place standing up at the counter, with the friendly chit chat of the ‘barista’ a sure sweetener to the bitter brew.
Should you need additional sweetener however, artificial sweetener – as with almost any artificial foodstuff in Italy – is not common. Sugar (‘zucchero’), cane sugar (zucchero di canna) or honey (‘miele’ – pronounced like me-ell-eh) are on offer, as is a small jug of fresh milk should you wish to add cool milk to your hot espresso.
As to the milk, some locations will have soy milk (latte di soia) but skim milk is not common at all.
Many take their espresso with an accompanying glass of water, either ‘naturale’ o ‘frizzante’ (if you can’t remember – or pronounce that – you can also just say ‘con gas’).
Decaf is available (decaffeinato) too, as is tea (tè – which can also be without caffeine, but in this case would be ‘deteinato’) and hot chocolate (‘cioccolato caldo’). Orzo is another popular coffee shop beverage of choice.
You can be in and out of the bar in a few minutes, although many locals may hang around chatting outside and enjoying the Tuscan sunshine, chatting about the local goings on.
Should you prefer to sit down to order a coffee, expect to find a ‘coperto’ (cover charge) on your bill. The ‘a tavola’ prices are also higher.
Most coffee shops you have to pay upfront for your coffees, going to the cash register to hand over your change and obtaining a receipt that is then presented to the barista as you order.
And over time, going back time and time again, these brief exchanges between barista, cashier and coffee-drinker accumulate, slowly forming into a friendship – the best pick-me-up there is!
To learn about Italian food and have fun learning discovering tasty ways to use seasonal Italian ingredients to make delicious, typical dishes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Cooking Classes in a Tuscan Villa.
If you would like to immerse yourself in the Tuscan culture, we have a small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni too, as well as stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning wine estate. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence – Best of Tuscany small-group tour.
Join us to have fun on an exhilarating bike ride from Florence to the Tuscan countryside, whizzing up and down the rolling Tuscan hills that form the stunning Tuscany countryside as you tour to a great Tuscan villa wine estate to visit their wine cellar for a Tuscan wine tasting, and dine at an award-winning Tuscan restaurant. During the warmer months, you may want to add a splash of extra fun to your Tuscany bike tour with our unique Tuscany Bike Ride with a Villa Swim. Should you wish to skip the Tuscan bike riding altogether and head straight pool-side, we have our Wine Tour and Villa Swim with lunch or simply enjoy a Villa Swim and Lunch in Tuscany.
Visit a Tuscan villa on the Taste of Tuscany at the Villa wine tour. Explore historic wine estates before undertaking a wine tasting. Tread through the terrain, enjoying spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside up-close and personal.
Stroll through the Tuscan countryside, join us for a Perfect Morning in Tuscany small-group walking tour. Leaving from Florence’s city centre and heading to the surrounding countryside, this small-group walking tour includes, well, walking in Tuscany, as well as lunch with wine at a stunning Renaissance Villa Estate, accompanied by an expert tour guide.
If you would like to have a private guide accompanying you, we have private tours that cater to your every desire. From Florence (and Tuscany) to Rome, Venice to the Cinque Terre and beyond, we are at your beck and call.
To explore other areas of Italy, can check out our Artviva Walking Tours website to read more about the tours we have to offer in Florence, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.