Espresso, caffe normale, cappuccino; sometimes it seems that there are as many types of coffee in Italy as there are pastas. And just like pasta, Italian coffee is an art form with many customs and traditions. Whether it’s a caffe corretto thrown back like a shot, a cappuccino and brioche for breakfast, or a granita di caffe con panna to cool off from the hot midday sun, in Italy there is a coffee drink specific for every time and mood.
The Perfect Tazza
Want to start a heated discussion in Italy? Ask a group of friends how to make a perfect cup of stove top espresso! There are fully automatic espresso makers, pump driven espresso machines, lever piston espresso machines, and, of course, the classic aluminum espresso coffee maker (also called a moka pot or The Moka Express), which was invented in the 1930’s.
Italian coffee tifosi in search of the perfect cup will also debate various factors such as bean type, blade vs. burr grinders, tamp pressure, water temperature, and humidity. Caffeine junkies not only have their favorite local torrefazione (coffee house), but even prefer certain baristi because of their ability to deliver a perfect caffe espresso.
‘S’ Marks the Pot (of Coffee)
No one expects a first-time visitor to Italy to trill their’s like a native Italian speaker. But if you don’t want to be labeled maleducato, when ordering a coffee in Italy it’s espresso, not expresso. Both will quicken your heart rate, but an expresso is a fast train and an espresso is a small cup of very strong coffee. And caffe(with two f’s) is both the beverage and the locale that serves it.
What kind of coffee should you order in a coffee? The possibilities can be as daunting as a Starbucks menu. Below is a list of the most popular caffeine-laden drinks. Keep in mind too, Italians generally don’t drink coffee with any meal except breakfast. Coffee is often ordered after a meal, and—che vergogna!—only the unwitting tourist will order a cappuccino in a restaurant after lunch or dinner. When ordering an after-dinner coffee, do not ask for an espresso; ask for “un caffe, per favore.“
Italian Vocabulary List: Coffee
- caffè (espresso)—a small cup of very strong coffee, i.e., espresso
- caffè Americano—American-style coffee, but stronger; weaker than espresso and served in a large cup
- caffè corretto—coffee “corrected” with a shot of grappa, cognac, or other spirit
- caffè doppio—double espresso
- caffè freddo—iced coffee
- caffè Hag—decaffeinated coffee
- caffè macchiato—espresso “stained” with a drop of steamed milk: small version of a cappuccino
- caffè marocchino—espresso with a dash of hot milk and cacao powder
- caffè stretto—espresso with less water; rocket fuel!
- cappuccino—espresso infused with steamed milk and drunk in the morning, but never after lunch or dinner
- granita di caffè con panna—frozen, iced beverage (similar to a slush, but ice shavings make it authentic) and topped with whipped cream