Sure, you’ve had an espresso and a cappuccino, but that’s just the tip of the Italian coffee iceberg, my friends. Coffee in Italy is a thing of it’s own. Even if you’re familiar with copycats in your home country, you’ll be surprised by how many names you don’t recognize on an Italian menu, and how those you do are not at all what you expected.
If you’re hesitant to order in Italian, here’s a formula easy enough for even the most language-challenged: “Un ____(name of coffee)____, per favore!” (oon ____ pehr fah-VOH-reh!) “A ____(name of coffee)____, please!”
*A note on pronunciation: Double consonants in Italian are literally pronounced twice, in sort of stressed, staccato way that gives the language its rhythm. Don’t feel silly if they feel forced or exaggerated when you try to say them. Although it might seem like a bad imitation of an Italian accent to you, you’re going to sound great to the Italians.
1. Espresso (eh-SPRES-soh) or Caffè Normale (cahf-FEH nohr-MAH-leh): A shot of espresso in a small porcelain cup. The classic coffee of Italy. It’s usually drunk after every meal, and can be modified to suit practically any taste:
- Caffè Lungo (cahf-FEH LUHN-goh): A bigger shot of espresso made with more water for a weaker flavor.
- Caffè Corto (cahf-FEH COHR-toh) or Caffè Ristretto( cahf-FEH rih-STRET-toh): A smaller shot of espresso made with less water for a super-concentrated, strong taste.
- Caffè Doppio (cahf-FEH DOHP-peeoh): A double shot of espresso to really wake you up.
- Caffè Decaffeinato (cahf-FEH deh-cahf-fehyee-NAH-toh): A decaffeinated shot of espresso.
- Caffè Freddo (cahf-FEH FREHD-doh): Cold espresso, usually served in what resembles a shot glass. Sometimes it’s made when you order (often for a lukewarm result) and sometimes it’s premade and chilled in the refrigerator (so it actually is cold).
- *Tip: If you’ve been searching for an American-style “iced coffee” in Italy, ask for a Caffè Freddo “con un pò di ghiacco,” (cohn oon poh dee GEEACH-cho), “with a little ice,” and “un pò di latte” (oon poh di LAHT-teh), “a little milk,” and that’s probably as close as you’ll get.
- Caffè con Panna (cahf-FEH cohn PAHN-nah): A shot of espresso with whipped cream on top.
- Caffè in Vetro (cahf-FEH in VEHT-roh): A shot of espresso served in a tiny glass cup instead of a tiny porcelain one. This apparently “changes the flavor” for coffee aficionados, but it’s really more of a way to look cool.
*Tip: Don’t try to order a coffee “to go.” Italian coffees are small and finish quickly. It’s extremely unlikely to find take-away cups in most coffee bars, for this reason.
Order this kind of Italian coffee if you…usually drink your coffee black or want to be like a real Italian.
2. Cappuccino (cahp-pooch-CHEE-noh): 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk, 1/3 foam, layered in a bigger cup. A typical breakfast drink, be prepared for the “well, you must be a foreigner” look if you order one at any other time of the day.
*Tip: To tell a good cappuccino from a bad one, pour some sugar over the foam. If it sinks through, you’re at the wrong café. If it rests on top, you’re golden.
Order this kind of Italian coffee if you…’re someone who likes to dip pastries or cookies inside.
3. Caffè Macchiato (cahf-FEH mahk-kee-AHT-oh) or Macchiato Caldo (mahk-kee-AHT-oh CAL-doh): A shot of espresso “stained” with a quick pour of steamed milk
- Macchiato Freddo (mahk-kee-AHT-oh FREHD-doh): The same drink, “stained” with cold milk, or sometimes served with a carafe of cold milk on the side.
Order this kind of Italian coffee if you…think a regular espresso is a bit too strong, or you normally can’t drink coffee without a little cream.
4. Latte Macchiato (LAHT-teh mahk-kee-AHT-oh): A big glass of frothed milk “stained” with a shot of espresso poured on top. Basically, the opposite of a Caffè Macchiato.
- Caffè Latte (cahf-FEH LAHT-teh): Equal portions of steamed milk and coffee, typically served in a larger porcelain cup. Pretty much a Latte Macchiato, but with more coffee flavor (or a cappuccino without the foam).
*Tip 1: “Latte” means milk in Italian. Make sure you order one of the above options if you want the milk and coffee drink commonly called a “latte” in America. If you just want a cup of milk, by all means, ask for a “latte.”
*Tip 2: Don’t ask for “skinny,” “soy,” “lowfat,” “nonfat,” or “skim” versions of milky drinks in Italy. In 99% of Italian coffee bars, your only option is whole milk. Embrace its rich, creaminess and know that the extra calories are all but cancelled out thanks to small serving sizes.
Order these kinds of Italian coffee if you…normally put more cream in your coffee than the coffee itself.
5. Caffè Americano (caf-FEH am-ehr-ee-CAH-noh): Espresso made with a lot more water, served in a bigger ceramic cup. Its large portion and very weak flavor resemble a typical cup of American coffee. Definitely not a favorite of most Italians, it’s often described as “coffee-flavored water.” 🙂
Order this kind of Italian coffee if you…think espresso is way too strong and way too small.
6. Caffè Shakerato (cah-FEH Shah-kehr-AHT-oh): Espresso shaken with ice, milk and sugar until frothy, usually strained into a martini glass or other elegant drinkware.
Order this kind of Italian coffee if you…’re feeling fancy on a hot summer day.
7. Orzo (ORT-zoh): A shot of what looks like and almost tastes like espresso, but is actually an alternative brewed from roasted barley. It’s organic, naturally caffeine free, and has a delicate, earthy flavor that falls somewhere between coffee and tea.
*Tip 1: Orzo can be substituted for espresso in almost all Italian coffee drinks. Simply add “d’Orzo” (DORT-zoh) to the end of your order: Cappuccino d’Orzo, Macchiato d’Orzo, Latte Macchiato d’Orzo…
*Tip 2: Ask for your Orzo “con scorza di limone/d’arancia” (cohn SCORT-sah dee lee-MOH-neh/dah-RAHN-cha) for a zesty twist of lemon or orange rind inside.
Order this type of coffee if you…’re health conscious, not a coffee drinker, or have kids who want to drink “coffee” with the adults.
8. Caffè al Ginseng (cahf-FEH ahl gin-SEHNG): A machine-made blend of instant coffee, creamer (usually non-dairy), sugar and ginseng extract. The latter supposedly makes you alert and energetic. Its flavor is reminiscent of a nutty, Chai Tea Latte (seeing as Chai nearly impossible to find in Italy, this is a wonderful alternative and exciting discovery).
Order this kind of coffee if you…appreciate exotic flavors or are in need of an extra boost.
9. Caffè Corretto (cahf-FEH cohr-REHT-toh): A shot of espresso “corrected” with a shot of alcohol. A bit of cognac, Sambuca, or Grappa (a type of strong Italian brandy), are the most common additions, but you can also ask for the liquor of your choice.
Order this kind of coffee if you…would rather be drinking a cocktail.
10. Marocchino (Mahr-ohk-KEE-noh): Subject to many variations, it’s generally espresso topped with frothed milk and a sprinkling of cocoa powder, served in a larger glass. It’s widely blogged about as the favorite of vacationers and expats in Italy.
- Mocaccino (Moh-cahch-CHEE-noh): Arguably just another name for the Marocchino, it sometimes shows up on menus as its own, sweeter drink: a combination of espresso, chocolate syrup and frothed milk. Kind of like a chocolate version of the cappuccino. Typically topped with cocoa powder and sometimes with whipped cream.
Order these kinds of coffee if you…’re not sure if you want coffee or dessert, or are addicted to chocolate.
What’s your favorite Italian coffee and why? Mine is a caffè in vetro.