The coffee bar culture in Italy is no myth: Italians are serious about their espresso. When you visit a bar anywhere in Italy, the menu is more or less the same. All drinks are based on the single espresso and mixed with water, steamed milk, milk foam, sugar, chocolate, and more. The names of drinks are very logical (see our guide below).
If you visit your neighborhood bar, chances are the barista will be delighted to help you choose and order your coffee. It’s a great part of the cultural experience of visiting Italy, so rather than offer a “translation guide” per se, we’ll explain the logic behind the names of the most popular coffee requests.
un caffè – an espresso
cappuccino – named after the capuchin monk robe of the same color
macchiato – (mah-kee-a-toe) literally means “stained”, so a caffè macchiato means “coffee stained with milk” while a latte macchiato means “milk stained with coffee. You can order a caffè macchiato either caldo (hot) or freddo (cold), which refers to the temperature of the milk. Cold milk will make the espresso tepid while hot milk will keep the coffee hot.
caffè americano – this generally means a double espresso diluted with water, unless the bar is equipped with an American-style coffee maker
Italian coffee drinking culture is different than in the states. You won’t find as many coffee shop/lounge spaces like you will in the states (although more and more the concept is catching on in Rome and we wrote a post about it).
The general custom is that you pay for your coffee and pastry before you order, and the barista will mark your receipt. This isn’t always followed – especially when the bar isn’t busy, but it’s a good idea to always pay first. An espresso at the bar shouldn’t cost more than about €1. Check out our post on identifying local vs. tourist prices in Rome.
At many coffee bars in Italy, the price for a coffee at the counter is different than if you choose to sit down (the idea is that you pay for table service while at the bar is “self service”). It’s not the case everywhere, so it’s best to ask, especially if you pay beforehand.
Although you can’t order tap water at 99% of the restaurants in Italy you can request a glass of water at the bar if they don’t just give you one automatically.
Here are a few of our favorite places to grab a great quality coffee:
If you’re into the hipster scene back in the states, then you’ll find comfort in Faro. Here the artisanal coffee reigns. Sure you can get your classic espresso or cappuccino or any other Italian coffee drink, but why not try some of the more researched brews, served in a wine glass? You’ll find drip-over coffee and plenty of tables to set up shop for a while and get some work done.
Via Piave, 55 | Website
The new nordic-style spot in Ostiense (near Rome’s pyramid), serves a classic Italian coffee menu in a cosy, minimal space. The quality of the coffee and the machine – a high-end La Marzocco – all help make your coffee experience top knotch. Add an avocado toast or scone with homemade butter to complete the fantasy.
Via Giovanni da Empoli | Website
Roscioli is more well known for its bakery, pizzeria, and trattoria, but within it’s small empire near Campo de’ Fiori you’ll find Roscioli Cafè. The space is very small (there’s a large communal table in the back but by midmorning you’ll have a hard time finding a seat). Nevertheless, the croissants are some of the best in Rome, and the service is optimal! Worth the visit.
Piazza Benedetto Cairoli, 16 | Website
Caffè Greco is an establishment in Rome – the oldest cafè in Rome and one of the oldest in Europe. Caffè Greco opened its doors in 1760 (more than 100 years before the espresso machine was invented) on Via Condotti, one of the most prestigious addresses in the Eternal City. Throughout the more than 250 years that the caffetteria has been open, it’s been the working space for such literati as John Keats, Lord Byron, Goethe and many others. The classic interiors of damask walls and velvet sofas tell a story of the centuries that passed through these walls.
Via dei Condotti, 86 | Website
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How do you take your coffee when in Rome? Tell us about your favorite Italian coffee in the comments below!