Going to the Bar: Coffee in Italy

So you stop by a café on your way to your morning escapades throughout the streets of Italy.

Wait, it’s not called a café, it’s called a bar? And ordering a coffee gets you what? The smallest cup you’ve ever seen filled with the strongest espresso you’ve ever smelled in your life, let alone tasted. What do you mean I’m not welcome to sit down, only to stand? I have to drink this stuff quickly? What happened to the calm, indie music and armchairs at Starbucks?

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If you're American, take everything you know about coffee, and forget it. Much like the language, coffee is completely different in Italy. But that's a good thing, because I love it! (If you have a different coffee culture from your country, I'd love to hear about it in the comments!)

1. Latte does not mean latte

In America, latte means espresso and steamed milk; in Italy, it just means milk. But, if you order a caffè instead, you’re going to get just espresso.

So you don’t want straight milk, and you don’t want straight espresso. What to order?

Here are some drinks that combine the two:

  • Caffé con panna: espresso with a dollop of cream on top

  • Caffé macchiato: espresso with a bit of foamed milk on top

  • Cappuccino: espresso with frothed milk

  • Caffé con latte: espresso with hot milk

  • Caffé d'orzo: espresso made with barley and caffeine free

2. Stand, don’t sit

Most Italians stand at the bar to drink their coffee. There are usually a few tables where you can sit if you must, but know that these usually come with a service charge. I had to learn this one the first I ever went to Italy! However, do not bring your laptop or book and camp out for three hours. Cafés (bars) are generally not for leisure, but for function.

However...I see this slowly starting to change in a couple places in Italy. There's one café (bar) in Florence called ITIT Il Sandwich Cafè if you want a little taste of home where you can chat for hours and sip on your coffee!

3. When to pay: before or after?

This will vary depending on the bar. Sometimes you pay at the cash register, take your receipt to the bar, and give it to the barista who then makes your drink. This usually happens when the bar is fairly large and it's hard to keep track of all the customers.

Most times though, you walk up to the bar, have your drink, and then go to the cashier and pay. When you walk in, observe what others are doing and follow that. Ce la fai! :)


Ok so maybe it's not a secret, but it was for me. If you've made it this far and you're reading this, then I have to tell you my absolute favorite type coffee drink in Italy. Caffè al ginseng. Simply the best! It's usually a sweet little coffee that you can order at most bars but most foreigners and even some Italians don't even know about it! I didn't know for the first 3 years I visited Italy...oops! But now I can't get enough of it :)

I know not everyone can hang with the potency of Italy's coffee so this is a great one to try if you want something a little lighter and sweeter! Let me know if you've ever tried it!

5. How to order coffee in Italian

The basic rule to order something is always be kind! We begin our sentence with a greeting like Buongiorno, then we say what we would like, and we conclude with the expression with ”please". So we will have a sentence like this:

"Buongiorno, potrei avere un caffè per favore?"

("Hello, could I have a coffee, please?"). 

Here are 4 other commonly used phrases when ordering in a bar. None of these is better than the others, it's up to you to decide! Let's pretend you need to order a drink (insert whatever coffee or drink you'd like below), you can say:

1) "Un drink, per favore."

(A drink, please)

2) "Mi faccia un drink, per favore." 

(Could you give me a drink, please?)

3) "Vorrei un drink, grazie!" 

(I would like a drink, thanks!)

4) Posso avere un drink? Grazie!

(Can I have a drink? Thank you!)

Which way do you use the most when you order something if you've ever tried in Italy?

How do you take your coffee? Have you ever had coffee in Italy? Was it better or worse than your normal cup of joe? Let me know in the comments!