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Prendiamo un caffe?” (Fancy a coffee?)

The other day at a bar I ordered a cappuccino freddo after having lunch. I know that in Italy it matters which type of coffee you drink at certain times during the day, so after making the order I started thinking if I had done the right thing by ordering the cappuccino or if they thought I was crazy. When I got home I searched for it on the net and realized that I had made a huge mistake…

Have you ever had an experience like this? I hope not, I felt so embarrassed even though they served my order without a word. As the saying goes, when you are in Rome, do as the Romans do, so let me introduce you to the Italian coffee culture, since besides pasta, caffè is considered to be an essential part in the life of the Italians.

Let’s see what to do and what not to do when ordering a coffee:

  1. Order a cappuccino or a caffè latte only in the morning, before 11 am, never in the afternoon and especially not after a meal. Italians can’t imagine the idea of consuming hot milk after a full meal.

  2. Let’s say you are at a bar ordering coffee, but you don’t want a plain black coffee, but would like to have some milk in it. You can ask for a caffè latte, which is an espresso with a dash of milk, or a latte macchiato and that is hot milk with a dash of coffee. Remember only to order these in the morning!

  3. Never say ‘espresso’! A single espresso is known as ‘un caffè’.

  4. You can ask for a double espresso (caffè doppio), but you must note, that it’s not what a real Italian would do. They do drink a lot of coffee, but in small doses.

  5. When placing your order be confident, be loud, even if the barista has his back to you, don’t hesitate to order.

  6. Enjoy your coffee at the bar, standing. There are two reasons for this; a coffee is like a drug that should be downed in one go, and not many know that if you sit down at a table and the waiter brings it to you, it costs more.

  7. If you would like to have some water in your coffee, you can ask for a caffè lungo or a caffè ristretto.

  8. I imagine during the hot summer days not everyone desires a hot coffee but would love some caffeine. There is a solution for this as well; ask for a caffè freddo, which is iced espresso, or for a cappuccino freddo, and that is an iced cappuccino. But don’t forget, they usually come pre-sugared.

  9. If you find mornings difficult, order a caffè corretto, which is the Italian builder’s early morning pick-me-up.

While travelling in Italy, we shouldn’t forget to think regionally. The country has 20 regions and each of them has its own unique coffee culture. For example in the northern Le Marche, enjoy a caffè anisette for an aniseed-flavored espresso. In southern Sicily, try caffè d’un parrinu, an Arabic-inspired coffee flavored with cloves, cinnamon and cocoa.

Last but not least, let me tell you about a nice tradition from Naples, that is unfortunately about to die out soon. This tradition is known as the practice of ‘caffè sospeso’, meaning suspended coffee. It’s the practice of paying for two coffees when you only have one. So, you pay for two coffees, drink only one, leaving the other one for a stranger to enjoy it for free, but he is supposed to pay for another one so the chain never ends and everyone can enjoy a good caffè.