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A quick guide to coffee in Italy

Here's how to drink it like a local

An older man wearing a hat sits enjoying a coffee

Coffee’s popularity in Italy today has a rich history. The drink was a favorite among the people of Northern Africa and the Middle East for centuries - long before the vibrant trade route between those places and the Republic of Venice brought coffee to Europe, in about the year 1600. The stimulating drink was first regarded with some suspicion, and priests urged Pope Clement VIII to denounce it as sinful. Before he did so, however, he asked to taste it. 

The verdict? “This Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall fool Satan by baptizing it,” the Pope declared.

With this blessing, Italian coffee culture was free to flourish - and so today, every Italian neighborhood has its local bar where locals have their caffé. Bars also often serve coffee, tea, fresh-squeezed juices, pastries, panini (a sandwich made with a bread roll), and tramezzini (crustless, white bread sandwiches cut in a triangle shape). They often have a few liqueurs to add to espressos or serve as a digestive.

Italians take their coffee very seriously, and the range of styles is vast. Here's our starter guide to help you figure out what to drink, and when.

Cappuccino - Italians consider cappuccino the quintessential breakfast coffee, so you’ll never see them having a cup after noon - and it may be difficult to find a bar that will serve a cappuccino in the afternoon.

Caffé latte - Americans know this as a latte but if you order a latte in Italy you’ll only get a cup of milk. Caffé latte is also considered a breakfast drink, and Italians won’t order it later in the day. 

Espresso. An espresso is a strong black coffee, made by forcing hot water through coffee grounds. It’s richer flavored and thicker than many other styles of coffee, and is served in a small cup. Un Caffee doppio is simply a double espresso.

Caffé macchiato - Served in an espresso cup, this is an espresso topped with a dollop of foamed milk. Again, it’s just a few sips worth of coffee but you can order it at breakfast or any time of the day. 

Caffé ristretto - This is a strong brew - it's espresso typically made with 50% less water than regular espresso. 

Marocchino - a delightful espresso/hot chocolate combo. A maraschino is an espresso mixed with milk foam and cocoa powder.

Caffé - A caffé is a very small espresso, only two or three sips worth. Italians might have it at breakfast or all through the day since it's such a small cup.

Shakerato - Italy’s answer to iced coffee. A shakerato is a chilled espresso over ice that is shaken to a froth (and usually served in a martini glass). 

Caffé corretto - An espresso ‘corrected’ with a shot of liquor, usually cognac, sambuca, or grappa.

A street scene with people, old buildings, narrow streets, and a cafe.

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