Coffee. Many of us are addicted to the stuff. The Italians however take coffee obsession to a whole new level, and sometimes it can seem as though there are as many types of coffee in Italy as there are pasta shapes – that’s a lot of coffee people! It can get confusing, especially as there is something of an unspoken etiquette surrounding the ritual of coffee… so here I am to demystify it for you (it’s OK, no need to thank me) with a few basic rules…
1. No milky coffee after 10am. The Italians drink cappuccino or latte macchiato SOLELY before getting any food in their tummies. They will instantly realise that you are an uninitiated foreigner if you order milky coffee after your lunch. You will get looks of pity. Mixed with disgust.
2. You don’t need to order an espresso, just caffé. If you want something longer, you will have to specify. To the Italians, coffee IS espresso – it’s sous-entendu.
3. Don’t sit down unless you plan on lingering over the newspaper. It’s pointless, and they will charge you extra. Yes, that’s right – you pay a supplement to sit. Neck it at the bar.
4. Don’t mess with your coffee. A skinny caramel frappuccino is not just unheard of, it’s downright blasphemous.
5. Be aware of the difference between North and South, even in terms of coffee. Coffee south of Rome is thicker, stronger (in my opinion better) and served shorter, in boiling hot little espresso cups. The trick is to tip the cup to wet the rim slightly before drinking so you don’t end up with your lip stuck to the cup (lookin’ at you, Naples)…
6. Alcohol is ok at any time of the day if it is in coffee. A caffé corretto is a coffee with a shot of brandy, grappa or other spirit in it. I see people drinking these in the morning. I don’t know how they do it without feeling sick, but they do… Of course, any other alcohol during the day outside of lunch will get you labeled an alcoholic.
7. Most Italians drink their coffee then pay. In tourist areas or in stations, airports etc you must get your receipt first. Don’t worry, you will know you got it wrong if they glare at you and yell “scontrino?!” or “ticket!?” so you can slink off to the till and pay. Don’t feel bad, it happens to the Italians too.
8. No coffee to go, unless you are taking an espresso to a colleague who had too much to do and couldn’t come to the bar. There is a reason there are no Starbucks in Italy.
9. There is no such thing as filter coffee. An Americano here is an espresso with a load of hot water dumped on it.
10. Anything you hear contrary to the above is paramount to heresy and must not be repeated.
Now I’m off to get a coffee.
With love, from Italy