Italy is well-known for “espresso” coffee, but if you come to the peninsula you’ll notice that there are infinite ways to drink coffee. You’ve certainly heard about cappuccino and macchiato, but do you know what a caffè corretto is? What’s the difference between lungo and ristretto? Have a look at this article and choose your favourite Italian coffee!
Un caffè, grazie!
First thing first: stop asking for an "espresso" when you sit in a coffee shop… we don’t call it like that! Italians use to say “un caffè” (a coffee) meaning the espresso one. The barista may ask you “normale?” (normal) to make sure that you mean a standard espresso and your answer should be ”sì, graze!”. You’ll get a shot of strong black coffee that can help waking up, especially in the morning. Be aware that it doesn’t taste like an Americano: its flavour is strong and usually not hearted by tourists. If you want to drink it in the Italian way, don’t put sugar in it and drink it in one shot!
It’s the same as an espresso, but a bit longer. They do it by draining more water than usual. Some people love to ask for a caffè lungo because it lasts a bit more in the mouth and usually contains more caffeine - work can be boring sometimes, but coffee overcomes our sleepiness!
If you think that an espresso is short, that means you’ve never tried a ristretto! This coffee tastes very strong, but its concentration of caffeine is actually very low. It's shorter than a normal espresso, and its name changes accordingly to the region where you are. Tuscan people, for example, call it "basso", but if you go to the Northern part of Italy it'll be named "corto". If you ask for a "ristretto", though, everybody will understand what you've ordered.
A double espresso is called caffè doppio in Italy. It’s made of two shots of espresso, which makes a stronger and bigger coffee. This is more a morning option, since if you drink it in the afternoon you’ll stay wide awake for the whole night!
If you want to have a typical Italian breakfast, forget the salty dishes which are commonly eaten in other countries. Our breakfast is sweet, and it’s composed by a good cappuccino and a croissant. Cappuccino is a slightly long espresso with the addition of about 100 ml of frothed milk served in a large cup. Some people love to add cocoa powder on top, which is not a bad idea. Putting cinnamon on top is very usual outside Italy, but not in our peninsula, so don’t even think to ask for it. You can have a cappuccino in the afternoon too, together with some pastry or cookies. Cappuccino shouldn’t be ordered and matched with salty food or with lunch/dinner: if you do so, the barista will look at you like you were mad!
Macchiato is a shot of espresso with a little bit of milk. We have two kinds of macchiato: "freddo" and "caldo". The difference is simple: macchiato freddo is made with cold milk, while macchiato caldo with hot milk. The waiter will serve it to you in a small cup, like the espresso one, and if you choose the macchiato freddo, the milk will be in a small pot, so you can add it to your coffee in a quantity of your choice.
This is a cappuccino with less frothed milk. As easy as that. Italians love macchiatone, because the milky taste doesn't overcome the coffee one. Macchiatone was invented in Venice between the 80's and the 90's, and was at first called "cappuccetto" (small cappuccino). The creation was then appreciated and spread all over Italy.
If you love sweet food, this may be the perfect coffee for you. Mocaccino is served in a transparent cup and is a cappuccino with cream and hot chocolate added. It’s both a coffee and a dessert! Italians don’t order it often and consider it more a “weekend choice” than a before-work coffee!
This coffee consists of milk foam, coffee and dark chocolate powder. Like mocaccino, it’s usually served in a small transparent cup or glass and, again, it’s not the local’s first choice when stopping at the coffee shop.
We can compare it to Irish coffee, since corretto is an alcoholic coffee too. It’s made with an espresso and some hard liquor added. In Veneto (the region where Venice is) there’s another version of corretto, the “rasentin”. When your caffè is almost at the end, you ask for a “rasentin”: they will give you some grappa to mix with the last part of the coffee using the hard liquor as an excuse to clean the cup better.
If you order a "latte", nobody will understand you. Order a caffè latte instead, that’s how we call it in Italy! This drink is made with an espresso mixed with about 200 ml of warm milk, and it’s good when combined with cookies or cakes. You need to love milk, though, because it covers the taste of coffee almost completely!
The difference between caffè latte and latte macchiato is slight but crucial: in the first one you put the milk on top of the espresso, while in the second one you do the opposite. Latte macchiato is a glass of hot milk with an espresso poured on top. Another good afternoon or breakfast option.
Summers in Italy can be very hot, especially if you live far from the sea. In Florence, for example, it's almost impossible to take a walk at midday between July and August! Drinking a hot coffee may not be the best choice during this season: that’s why we have a summer option for coffee as well! Caffè shakerato is an espresso shaked with ice as if it was a cocktail. The shaking creates a soft foam on top which is delicious! Shakerato is served with some coffee beans on top.
We could talk about Neapolitan coffee for hours: it can’t be compared to a normal espresso, since the blend is stronger and taster. It’s made by adding Robusta quality beans to the Arabica’s one. Another difference is that the beans are cooked for more time and at higher temperatures. Napoletano is a very strong coffee, which presents an amazing foam on top that should be mixed with a spoon before drinking it. The cup should be hot, to keep our caffè nice and toasty, and served with a small glass of water which has to be drank before the coffee. A normal Neapolitan citizen drinks coffee at least five times a day: at breakfast, around 10 am, after lunch, in the afternoon and after dinner, which makes of Napoli the city that consumes more coffee in the whole peninsula.
Things you should know
- Coffee to-go: this is not an Italian habit: we use to drink our coffee at the coffee shop, talking with the waiter or the barista and chatting with the people around us. Coffee is a social moment in Italy, don’t forget it!
- Caffè sospeso: since drinking coffee is a social matter, if you find yourself alone at the coffee shop you should leave a “caffè sospeso”. That is, you pay for two coffees instead of one, so to give someone else the luxury of grabbing a coffee too. Anyone should be able to have a coffee from time to time, even if they can’t afford it!
- The cup matters: every coffee has its own cup: the espresso has a small one, while latte macchiato is served in a big glass. Some people love to change rules, and ask for a “caffè in tazza grande”, which means they’re want a normal espresso served in a big cup.
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