How much do you know about Italian coffee? If you know that it’s an espresso, not an “expresso”, and that ordering a latte will get you strange looks from the waiter, you’re off to a good start! Read on to learn more about the different types of Italian coffee, and discover how to blend in with the locals when ordering at the bar.

Types of Italian coffee

Compared to some over the top Starbucks concoctions, like “double ristretto venti half-soy iced vanilla double-shot gingerbread”, the types of Italian coffee are fairly simple!

When at the bar, you’ll occasionally overhear some lengthy orders from Italians who are a little more particular about their coffee, such as “caffè schiumato tiepido, poca schiuma, al vetro”. That’s a lukewarm coffee with foam, but not too much foam, in a glass instead of a ceramic cup, in case you want to order one yourself…

Here are some of the classic types of Italian coffee you can order at the bar:

Espresso is the most popular Italian coffee, usually gulped down while standing at the bar. It’s generally served piping hot in a small cup. If you ask simply for a caffè, this is what you’ll get.

Caffè macchiato is an espresso with a drop of milk. Macchiato means “stained” in Italian, so caffè macchiato translates as “stained coffee”. When you put it that way, it doesn’t sound very appealing, but it has a softer taste than a straight shot of espresso.

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Italian Coffee: Espresso

Cappuccino is an espresso with steamed milk foam. It’s a more substantial drink, and is a popular option for a more leisurely coffee break, or at breakfast accompanied by a cornetto (pastry).

Caffè latte is what English-speaking countries call a “latte”, and it means “coffee with milk”. If you ask for a “latte” at the bar, you’ll get served a glass of milk, so make sure you specify caffè latte!

Italian Coffee: Caffe Latte
Italian Coffee: Caffè Latte

Caffè freddo/cappuccino freddo is an iced espresso or cappuccino – a popular option in the hot summer months.

Caffè corretto translates as “corrected coffee”. How does one “correct” a coffee, you might be wondering? With alcohol! It’s a shot of espresso with a small amount of liquor like grappa or sambuca.

Other coffee options

If you’re looking for an option without caffeine, you can ask for a caffè decaffeinato. Alternatively, try a caffè d’orzo or Ginseng.

A caffè d’orzo is a kind of caffeine-free coffee made from barley, which became popular in Italy during the Second World War, when real coffee from Ethiopia was often too expensive and difficult to procure. A Ginseng is a sweet, caffeine-free drink with energising properties, made from ginseng root. They won’t give you an energy boost quite like a real coffee, but they’re nicer than they sound…honest.

Italian coffee etiquette

Here are some coffee conventions to keep in mind when you’re drinking Italian coffee:

  • Ordering and payment – If you want to drink a coffee standing at the bar, pay at the till first, then bring the receipt to the bar and order. If you sit down at a table, a waiter will usually come to you to take your order, but if you go inside to order and pay, make sure you tell the staff that you’re sitting at a table. Some bars charge extra for table service. Tipping is not obligatory, but it’s polite to leave some leftover change. For instance, the standard cost of an espresso is 90 centesimi, so if you pay with 1 euro, you can leave the change.


  • To take away or not? – In other countries there’s a culture of takeaway coffee, but it’s not really a thing in Italy. It’s partly because servings of Italian coffee are so much smaller. What’s the point in getting an espresso to go, when it’ll be gone in just a few seconds? Italians usually only order takeaway coffees if they’re bringing them back to the office for their colleagues. If you want a takeaway coffee, specify “d’asporto” or “da porta via” when you order.


  • Acceptable cappuccino consumption – There are strict, unwritten rules about when it’s okay to order a cappuccino. At breakfast or before 11am is fine. With or after any other meal, it’s considered odd. Most Italians find the idea of drinking a rich, milky beverage with or after a meal a little disgusting. If you’re really craving a cappuccino in the afternoon, go for it, but expect to be side-eyed!

Drinking Italian coffee in Rome

Wondering where to drink coffee in Rome? Well, that depends on how fussy you are about your coffee. Unless you really consider yourself to be a coffee snob, the answer is “anywhere”. You can find excellent coffee and characteristic bars just about everywhere.

If your priority is scenic surroundings, pick a table outside in any pretty piazza in the centre. Just remember that, as mentioned above, you may be charged extra for table service. Expect to pay more for a coffee in a touristy location like Piazza Navona, in front of the Pantheon, or with a view of the Colosseum. But remember that the average price of a cappuccino in Rome is €1.20, so don’t get ripped off!

There’s no such thing as “the best coffee in Rome”, as it’s really a matter of personal taste. For a typical Roman breakfast, order a coffee and cornetto at Linari in Testaccio. For a great coffee in relaxed, beautiful surroundings, go to the bar at the Chiostro del Bramante gallery. Or, if you’d like to try a famous, historic bar, stop off at the 18thcentury Caffè Greco, near the Spanish Steps, or Sant’Eustachio near the Pantheon.

Once you’ve refuelled on coffee, you’re ready to start exploring the city with Roads to Rome Private tours!

Read more: 15 best coffee bars in Rome (CNN Travel)

Written by Alexandra Turney