A Guide to the Italian Coffee Shop Experience

Don’t let the fact Milan coffee shops inspired Starbucks fool you. The American and Italian coffee shop experiences are VASTLY different. It can take a while to adjust to, but here are some tips to help give you a head start to ordering coffee like a true Italian.


  1. Want coffee? Go to a bar!
    No, really! When I first arrived in Italy, I was amazed by all of the bars that I saw…but I quickly realized that in Italy, a “bar” is actually a coffee shop! Sure, you can get alcohol there as well, but unless you get a “caffé corretto”, they’ll probably think you’re a bit odd.
  2. Ordering a “caffé” will NOT get you a coffee
    In Italy, a “caffé” is simply a shot of espresso. Actually knowing what to order to get what you want is probably the most confusing part about the Italian coffee shop experience…so here’s a quick cheat sheet of the most common drinks:
    Caffé: a shot of espresso, this is the most commonly ordered drink in Italy and it’s actually really
    good if you pour some sugar in it!
    Caffé macchiato: a shot of espresso mixed with a little bit of milk
    Caffé corretto: a shot of espresso mixed with a shot of liquor (literally means “corrected coffee”)
    Caffé americano: a typical American cup of coffee
    Cappucino: a shot of espresso in a larger cup mixed with steamed milk and lots of foam (Italians
    only drink this in the mornings)
    Caffé latte: a shot of espresso in a larger cup mixed with steamed milk
    Keep in mind that these are loose guidelines…I’ve ordered the same thing at two separate bars and received completely different drinks. Be flexible…and if you don’t get what you want, don’t fret.  Coffee is one of the few things that is (generally) cheaper in Italy than in the US.
  3. Pay before you order
    This isn’t the case at all bars, but at most of them you are expected to pay at the cashier before you order. Then you take your ticket over to the barista to show him what you’ve payed for.
  4. Prego = order
    If you’ve done your research on basic phrases before going to Italy, then you know that “prego” is how you say “you’re welcome” in Italian. However, in this context, when the barista looks at you and says “Prego!” he is asking for your order.
  5. Don’t order it to go
    Italians don’t take their coffee to go. Sometimes it’s possible to your caffé americano in a take away cup , but they will undoubtedly think that you’re a crazy American tourist (which you most likely are, but you can  at least try to pretend that you’re not).
  6. Stand, don’t sit
    When you order your caffé, don’t sit down, get cozy, and read a book. The main reason Italians don’t take their coffee to go is because they stand at the bar and drink it in under five minutes. It’s generally an in and out experience. So stand at the bar, sip your coffee, and make your exit swiftly.
  7. When you leave, tell the barista “Ciao, grazie!”
    Your stay may have been short, but it won’t feel that way! Most Italians that I’ve come across are actually really nice and welcoming to American tourists. So thank your barista for making your experience with a common “Ciao, grazie!” as you leave the bar.

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