Coffee Culture In Rome
If an Italian ever asks you “Prendiamo un caffè?” don’t hesitate to take them up on the invite! Make your way to the nearest “bar”, the Italian term for a café or coffee shop, and perch up at the counter to sip your java from a tiny porcelain cup. For Italians, stopping for coffee is parallel to taking a break from life altogether – a brief pause in the day to fulfill a traditional ritual, delight the senses, and put a little pep in their step! To spare yourself the embarrassment of requesting a “latte”, to which your barista will respond by handing you a glass of cold milk, read on for everything you need to know about Rome’s Coffee Culture!
Deciphering the Italian Coffee Code
Caffè/Espresso: Also referred to as a “Caffè Normale”, it’s the perfect little coffee with a heavy punch! Simple but delightful.
Caffè Doppio: A double espresso is not a usual choice. Italians are more likely to return for another coffee (sometimes 5 to 7 per day!) than to order a double.
Caffè Ristretto: An espresso with the water cut off early, with a smaller, thicker, and more intense result.
Caffè Lungo: As espresso with a bit of extra hot water. So, it is larger but not stronger. This is a great compromise for those who are used to American coffee but don’t want to instantly be labeled as a tourist.
Caffè Americano: Italians never drink Caffè Americano, what they commonly refer to as “dirty water”, but the option is there for those who aren’t willing to stray from it. In Italy, though, you’ll get an espresso with hot water added to it.
Caffè con Panna: Espresso with a dollop of whipped cream on top.
Caffè Macchiato: Espresso with a frothy dollop of milk on top (pictured above). Pronunciation: “mah-kya-toe”.
Cappuccino: A worldwide classic (pictured below) made with 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 milk foam. This is a typical choice with breakfast as it is quite filling!
Caffè Schiumato: A compromise between the Caffè Macchiato and Cappuccino, with more milk than a macchiato and less than a cappuccino. Pronunciation: “skew-mah-toe”.
Caffè latte: 1/3 Espresso and 2/3 hot milk, but not frothy like a cappuccino.
Latte Macchiato: A glass full of hot milk with a small splash of espresso.
Marocchino: A sweet-tooth fix in which the espresso is served in a small glass with a dollop of foamed milk and chocolate. Some bars use liquid chocolate on the bottom while others add chocolate powder to the top. Regardless, it’s a yummy choice to change things up! Pronunciation: “mah-roh-keen-oh”.
Caffè al Ginseng: Espresso mixed with ginseng extract. It’s creamy with a warm, nutty flavor and usually quite sweet. It’s definitely a unique variation worth trying!
Caffè Corretto: “Corretto” literally translates to “correct”, as in “this is the correct way to drink a coffee”. But that, of course, is a matter of opinion! Espresso is spiked with a splash of alcohol, usually grappa, sambuca, or rum, in this classic after-dinner option.
Caffè Freddo: Espresso that is made fresh each morning and stored in the fridge to make it cold. Most bars add sugar while it’s still hot, but you can try asking for “amaro” if you prefer no sugar.
Caffè Shakerato: Fresh espresso poured over ice, shaken into a cold froth, and poured into a stemmed glass. Fancy and refreshing!
Granita di Caffè: Coffee served over shaved ice or as a slushy.
Some Useful Coffee Vocab in Italy
Caffè refers to a beverage, not a coffee shop.
A bar is a coffee shop, which also has pastries and some alcohol on hand.
Mocha is not a type of drink in Italy. In fact, it sounds like “moka” which is a tiny stove-top percolator traditionally used to make coffee in Italian homes.
Cacao is the Italian word for cocoa. Pronounced “kah-kow”, baristas will occasionally offer to sprinkle a bit on top of your cappuccino!
Latte = milk
Latte di Soia = Soy milk (Pronunciation: “soy-ah”)
Zucchero = sugar
Decaffeinato = decaffeinated
Amaro = bitter, or without sugar
How to Enjoy Italian Coffee Anywhere in the World
First, you should get your hands on a moka (pictured above). Found in home goods stores as well as souvenir shops and retailers in between, the little stove-stop “macchinetta” is the traditional choice for Italians making coffee at home. Next, you’ll need fresh coffee beans from a “torrefazione”, or coffee roaster, like Castroni, Trombetta, or Antigua Tazza D’Oro. With your moka and coffee beans, you can enjoy an authentic taste of Rome from anywhere – and this could be a great gift to bring back for friends!
Unspoken Rules & Rituals (Feel Free to Break Them!)
- Italians almost always drink their coffee “al banco”, or “at the bar”, and TO-GO cups are a big no-no.
- Should you choose to have your coffee at a table, be prepared to pay twice the price.
- Italians do not drink Caffè Americano. In fact, they refer to it as “dishwater”.
- It is considered a real faux pas to order a cappuccino in the afternoon, the reason being that milky coffees are more filling and therefore reserved for breakfast. Some also believe that milk disrupts digestion, deeming it a bad idea after lunch. A caffè macchiato or schiumato would be considered a better option as they have milk, but not as much of it.
- It is not unusual for an Italian to drink 4-6 coffees per day. Typically, one would have a cappuccino with breakfast, a few shots of espresso throughout the day, and perhaps a caffè corretto after dinner!
Is Italian Coffee Eco-Friendly?
Some would say so! Not only do Italian bars tend to be small, family-run businesses that prefer to use locally sourced products, but the tradition of enjoying a small coffee at the bar minimizes waste. How? Well, the tiny porcelain cups in Italian bars can be washed and re-used to no end while an estimated 4 billion Starbucks cups are thrown away each year. Ouch! Much to the dismay of many Italians who protested fervently, Italy’s first Starbucks opened in Milan in 2018. What will happen next? Who knows. But we hope Italy’s coffee culture doesn’t change a bit!
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