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Italian Coffee Culture: Traditions, Popular Drinks & More!

Italy flag with coffee on table

When it comes to coffee culture, Italy has the world beat. In fact, coffee is so intertwined with Italy that a good portion of the language we use to discuss coffee is Italian. Since the 1500s, when coffee beans were first introduced in the country, Italian coffee culture has existed. And like all cultures, the Italian coffee culture comes with intricate rituals all its own.

Most of us are coffee lovers who need our caffeine fix as soon as we roll out of bed, but in Italy, people drink coffee all day long (especially as a break from working). It is not uncommon to hear someone say, “Ci prendiamo un caffè?” at any point in the day as a signal that it’s time for a coffee break. And drinking coffee is a social event in Italy, done with family and friends.

So, what makes Italian coffee culture what it is? Part of it is the rules guiding it, such as where to drink coffee, when to drink it, and how. And part of it is the vast amount of coffee drinks the Italians have perfected. If you want to emulate Italian coffee culture (or just fit in next time you visit), this guide will let you do just that!

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Italian Coffee Culture: The Rules

Italian coffee culture contains a lot of rules and rituals of which you should be aware. From the correct times to drink certain types of coffee to where to drink it to how to drink it, here’s how Italian coffee culture works.

outdoor cafe in Rome Italy
Image credit: Gabriella Clare Marino, Unsplash

When to Drink Coffee

Italians begin their day with a cappuccino or other milky coffee drink, such as a latte macchiato or caffé latte. However, you should never order one of these drinks after 11 am, as doing so would be considered a faux pas. Why can’t cappuccinos and milky coffees be ordered any later than breakfast? There’s a good reason. The milk in these drinks is filling, so drinking one before a bigger meal than breakfast would spoil your appetite (frowned upon by Italians). Plus, drinking milk later in the day can cause digestive trouble.

That doesn’t mean you can’t consume any more caffeine after breakfast, though! Cappuccinos, latte macchiatos, and caffé lattes may not be acceptable, but coffee throughout the day in other forms is what should be done. Drinking coffee pretty much every hour of the day is acceptable in Italy if you do it right. Often this coffee is had by drinking shots of espresso throughout the day—though if pure espresso is too strong, a caffé macchiato is acceptable. Why is a caffé macchiato acceptable despite the milk? It’s because it only has a splash.

If a shot (or two or three) of espresso won’t cut it for you, you can order the caffé lungo, which cuts the espresso a touch with a splash of hot water and is a bit larger and less intense.

Other than the morning cappuccino and the espresso shots throughout the day, when else is it acceptable to drink coffee? One of the most important coffee rituals in Italy is coffee after a meal, either espresso or a caffé corretto (coffee containing a dash of alcohol).

Where to Drink Coffee

When you’re drinking coffee in Italy, you’ll be at a bar. Not a bar that sells alcohol, though. Coffee houses in Italy are similar to your local neighborhood bar (at least in vibes) but with coffee instead. In fact, many of these places are just called “Bar” and won’t have a name outside of the shop.

When you get to the bar, you’ll order your coffee. But you won’t take it to-go (there’s really no such thing in Italy), and you won’t want to sit at a table (this can double the price of your drink and is really only an occurrence found in tourist areas). Instead, you’ll stand at the counter with others, sipping your espresso and taking time for an unhurried moment and good conversation.

Drinking coffee in Italy is a ritual meant to let you enjoy the smaller moments in life.

Italian cafes
Image Credit: Unsplash

How to Drink Coffee

There are a fair number of rules when it comes to how you should drink your coffee in Italy.

For starters, you should always take a sip or two of water before you drink coffee. Why? Because doing so cleanses the palate and lets you fully appreciate the aroma and flavor of your coffee. Occasionally, baristas will hand you a tiny glass of water for this, but it’s more likely you’ll need to order the water for yourself. It’s only a few more euros and well worth it to enjoy the full coffee experience.

Coffee is served with a small coffee spoon (even though coffee in Italy doesn’t come with sugar and people don’t use creamer in it). There’s a reason for this, too, though. Even if you don’t put sugar or creamer in your drink, you should still mix it. To do it correctly, you’ll need to move the spoon very lightly from top to bottom instead of in a circular motion (and don’t hit the sides of the coffee cup as the noise is considered unpleasant). Why mix your coffee if nothing has been added? This is done because it distributes the aroma and flavor, enhancing the experience of drinking coffee.

Finally, there’s a two-minute rule about drinking your coffee. If you want to enjoy an espresso while it’s at its best, it needs to be consumed no more than  after it’s made (apparently, the flavor lessens by 50% within those two minutes). Also, don’t take time to blow on your coffee to cool it, as it’s considered bad manners.

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Top 16 Italian Coffee Drinks

Now that you know how to drink coffee like an Italian, it’s time to learn about the many Italian coffee drinks you can try! Some you’ll be familiar with, but some will be brand new, so you may find your next favorite coffee drink here.

1. Un Caffè (Espresso / Caffè Normale / Short Black)

This is simply espresso and the type of coffee most enjoyed throughout the day.

2. Caffè Doppio (Double Espresso)

If you need a bit more of a caffeine hit, you can order this coffee with two shots of espresso. However, ordering this is much less common than simply stopping by the coffee bar multiple times a day.

3. Caffé Freddo or Cappuccino Freddo

This coffee drink is simply an iced black coffee typically pre-mixed with sugar and chilled (though if you don’t want the sugared version, you can request the ‘non zuccherato’). And it’s pronounced fray-doh, and not like the name Fred.

4. Caffé Macchiato

A  is just espresso with a dash of warm milk.

Image Credit: Alexas_Fotos, Pixabay

5. Caffé Shakerato

If you love iced coffee, you’ll love the caffé shakerato! It’s precisely what the name suggests—shaken coffee (espresso, shaken with ice, to be exact). It’s usually only to be found during the warmer months of the year, though, so you’ll have to visit Italy in the summertime to take advantage. Get it with a bit of sugar or a dash of Amaro Averna for the authentic Italian experience.

6. Caffè Estivo

The name of this one literally translates to “summer coffee”, so you can imagine the best time to drink it! Essentially, it’s espresso topped with cream (con panna) and loads of foam.

7. Caffé Corretto

This name translates to “corrected coffee”. How are you correcting it? By adding a dash of alcohol!   can be any kind of coffee with any kind of alcohol (but most often brandy, grappa, anisette, or rum).

8. Caffè Ginseng

This Italian coffee may be your favorite if you enjoy both coffee and tea. This coffee is made with espresso and ginseng root extract for a unique nutty flavor that one will either love or hate.

9. Cappuccino

You should be familiar with this coffee drink made with espresso, milk foam, and steamed milk. There are a few different varieties to be found in  , which include the cappuccino secco made with only frothed milk, the cappuccino chiaro made with less foam and more milk, and the cappuccino scuro made with more coffee and less milk.

cappuccino on table in a cafe
Image Credit: jordaneil, Shutterstock

10. Caffè Marocchino (aka Espressino or Mocaccino)

This coffee drink is more of a dessert coffee. Containing an espresso shot, a foam layer, and some dashes of cacao powder, the marocchino both looks and tastes delicious! There are also some variations of this drink you can try, replacing the cacao powder with cinnamon, Nutella, or powdered hot chocolate.

11. Caffè Con Panna (Espresso with Whipped Cream)

If you adore sweet stuff, you’ll love this drink! Made with an espresso shot and homemade whipped cream, this coffee drink is fun and delicious.

12. Latte Macchiato

The opposite of a caffé macchiato,  consists of warmed milk with a dash of espresso.

13. Caffè Latte

If you want a latte in Italy, be sure you order the caffé latte—just ordering a latte will result in you getting a cup of milk and probably some strange looks. Also of note is that the caffé latte will be smaller than you’re used to in America.

14. Caffè Ristretto

If a simple caffé doesn’t cut it, get this  of the drink. It uses the same amount of coffee bean amount but is made with half the water.

ristretto top view
Image Credit: CC0 Public Domain, Pxhere

15. Caffè D’Orzo

This coffee drink doesn’t actually have coffee in it. Rather it’s made from barley (occasionally used as a substitute for coffee in Italy) and is often drunk by children.

16. Caffè Lungo (Long Espresso)

This coffee drink isn’t one of the most popular in Italy and is merely a stronger version of the caffé americano. But where an americano involves a dash of hot water at the end, this drink incorporates the water that was run through the coffee grounds.

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Regional Coffee Drinks

Each region of Italy also has its own coffee drinks—below are just a few you’ll encounter.

1. Bicerin (Piedmont)

Native to Turin, this  is made of Italian drinking chocolate, espresso, and milk and comes layered in a glass.

2. Caffè ‘Allo Zabaione (Bologna)

Coming from Bologna, this coffee drink blends espresso with zabaglione (a sweet wine custard).

3. Caffè Anisette (Le Marche)

The caffé anisette comes from the Le Marche region and is a version of the caffé corretto as it’s made from espresso and anisette liqueur.

Bicerin Italian coffee drink
Image Credit: Kcuxen, Shutterstock

4. Caffè D’un Parrinu (Sicily)

This cappuccino-like drink is found in Sicily and contains clove, cocoa, and cinnamon.

5. Granita Di Caffè (Sicily)

This Sicilian coffee drink is basically a slushie consisting of espresso, granita (similar to sorbet), syrup, and whipped cream. It’s often enjoyed with Brioche col Tuppo.

6. Moretta Di Fano (Le Marche)

Most often served as an after-dinner drink, the Moretta di Fano is a version of the caffé corretto in that it includes a dash of alcohol. It’s also flavored with sugar and the peel of a lemon and served in a glass where you can see the layers of alcohol and coffee.

7. Patavina (Veneto)

The Patavina is mixed with mint syrup and contains hints of cream, cocoa, and espresso. It came about in the 19th century and was once enjoyed by politicians and intellectuals.

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Final Thoughts

Italian coffee culture can be a bit complicated with its unspoken rules and rituals, but with this guide, you should be able to drink like an Italian in no time. Just remember all the rules about when, where, and how to drink coffee so you don’t make any rookie mistakes. And take advantage of all the coffee drink types Italy has to offer!

Featured Image Credit: gmstockstudio, Shutterstock


Kate MacDonnell

Kate is a lifelong coffee enthusiast and homebrewer who enjoys writing for coffee websites and sampling every kind of coffee known to man. She’s tried unusual coffees from all over the world and owns an unhealthy amount of coffee gear.

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