Many of our favorite coffee traditions and beverages are indebted to Italian coffee culture. Since the first espresso shot was pulled in 1900s Italy, the enjoyment of coffee has been a quintessential part of Italian life. Here are 6 Italian coffee culture traditions that we’ve observed in Italy over the years. We hope you’ll find them helpful whether you’re traveling to Italy or trying to bring a little taste of Italy to your home.
1. One blend of coffee beans, one barista
In America, we’re used to walking into our local coffee shop and being able to choose from 3 or more types of drip coffee. This is not the case in Italy! The Italians believe in one bean blend, one machine, one grinder, one barista. Simplicity is at the heart of Italian coffee culture.
2. Coffee drinks with milk are reserved for mornings
Healthy digestion is an important part of how Italians understand their everyday health. This is reason why there’s an entire category of drinks called aperitivi, which warm the stomach before dinner, and digestivi, which ease digestion after the meal. Because of this belief in the importance of healthy digestion, Italian coffee drinks made with milk are not consumed in the afternoon because of their heft.
3. “Latte” means milk in Italian
Latte translates literally to “milk” in Italian. If you order a latte at an Italian cafe, you’ll end up with a cool glass of milk!
4. Espresso is enjoyed quickly…hence the name!
Italian coffee drinks are often enjoyed while standing at a bar. Though they are delicious, they’re often downed in one gulp. It’s the tonic that starts your day off right.
5. Here’s your menu.
Don’t expect a Starbucks-style menu at an Italian cafe. Here’s a short list of some of Italy’s favorite espresso-based beverages.
Caffè: a single shot of espresso
Doppio: a double shot of espresso
Ristretto: a “short,” concentrated cup of espresso made with half the usual amount of water
Lungo: a “long” cup of espresso made with slightly more water than a typical shot of espresso
Americano: A tongue and cheek joke! A diluted shot of espresso meant to imitate American drip coffee.
Machiatto: Italian for “stained” or “spotted,” this coffee is topped with a drop of steamed milk.
Cappuccino: a shot of espresso with steamed milk (about a 1:2 ratio).
Corretto: a shot of espresso with a small amount of liquor like grappa, sambuca, or cognac.
6. Buy a coffee for a stranger
Caffè Sospeso or “suspended coffee” is a tradition that began in Naples and later spread to the rest of Italy. It’s simply the act of buying a coffee for a stranger to enjoy later. Fun fact: the chairman of S.S.C. Napoli, Napoli’s soccer team, is rumored to buy ten Caffè Sospesos every time his team wins!