It is incredibly difficult to have a conversation about Italian culture and products without mentioning coffee. If empire was a game played in coffee beans rather than blood and oil, Italy would rule the world… or at least Europe. There is ample evidence to suggest that the sexiest, most passionate (and football possessed) places on earth have another thing in common… the coffee bean. (Note: the coffee bean isn’t a bean at all so much as it is a seed, but we won’t get into the specifics here.)
Though this is more precisely a cafe blog, I begin with coffee because in Italy, unlike in other countries, cafes exist not as spots to merely exchange ideas or hash out new endeavors while occasionally sipping watered down espresso or lattes as authentically Italian as the knock-off Gucci purse you bought on your Roman holiday. Italian cafes, those not burdened by their close proximity to major tourist hubs, envelop occupants in a state of bliss approaching the spiritual. Indeed, it isn’t Italian cathedrals that garner (or deserve) the reverence and awe of the populace but the cafes outside their boundaries. Even the Vatican for all its history and magnitude can’t bring joy to the joyless and the Spirit to unbelievers the way the cappuccino at Sant Eustachio 15 minutes away can.
Now that we’ve proven the divine quality of Italian coffee, let’s get into drinking etiquette. The typical Italian espresso, or caffé, is drank standing at the bar. It’s likely you have never seen this in practice before, and while it comes as a bit of an oddity at first it is practiced to perfection by Italians hurried by the prospect of work or other dreaded obligations. The tables are for tourists, families, and the elderly. It is worth noting that in most of the Italian cities you’ve heard of – i.e. Venice, Florence and Rome – sitting down at a table oftentimes raises the bill… sometimes as much as four-fold.
There are of course different varieties of coffee drinks, and just knowing what they’re called at Starbucks isn’t going to cut it, so I’ve included a nifty coffee translator below with the name in Italian followed by its American counterpart and/or explanation.
Espresso – Caffé: We all know this one. In Italy, espresso is especially strong… and delicious.
Doppio – Double Espresso, naturally.
Ristretto – Essentially an espresso, but more concentrated and with less water.
Americano – Lungo: The opposite of the above Ristretto, contains more water than an espresso.
Macchiato – Espresso that is topped off, or “marked,” with a dollop of steamed milk.
Corretto – Espresso that is “corrected” with grappa, cognac or sambuca.
Cappuccino – My personal favorite and I expect no explanation is necessary. If you’re unfortunate enough to have never had one before, it’s equal parts espresso, milk, and foam. This and the below “Latte” are considered by Italians as more or less breakfast drinks, so you might get looks if you order them after noon. But it’s delicious, so who cares?
Cappuccino Scuro – Cappuccino with less milk and thus darker in color.
Cappuccino Chiaro – The opposite of the above, more milk and lighter in color.
Caffé Latte – Same as a standard cappuccino, just with more milk and less foam.
Latte Macchiato – Macchiato, as you remember, means “marked,” this time the espresso does the deed and the milk is victimized.
Espressino Freddo – I really love this one. The closest one can get to a Starbucks “Frappuccino” in Italy, it’s cold coffee (or sometimes lemon, mint, or what have you) in the form of blended ice.
Espresso Freddo – Not to be confused with the above, this one is just a cold espresso or “caffé.”
That’s about the extent of it. Some cafes might do a Mocha for you, but such are rare and dependent on the barista’s tolerance for the requests of naive tourists.
Now, if you excuse me, I really ought to get back to my caffé.