ITALIAN COFFEE VOCABULARY AND GUIDE
Coffee — it’s something many can’t start the day without. In Italy, it is a cultural mainstay, and the country is perhaps the beverage’s spiritual home. After all, Italy gave us the lingo — espresso, cappuccino, latte — and its coffee culture is filled with rituals and mysterious rules. Coffee was introduced to Europe in the 17th century. But it wasn’t until the invention of a steam-driven, coffee-making machine in the late 19th century that Italy gave the world espresso. Espresso is not a particular coffee bean or type of roast. It’s a method to brew finely ground and compacted coffee very fast, with very hot water, at very high pressure.
ITALIAN COFFEE CULTURE:
- Where do you get your coffee? In a bar. Not a cafe. Not a coffee shop. What we call coffee shops or cafes are called bars in Italy.
- Coffee isn’t meant to be sipped slowly for hours. Italian coffee comes in tiny quantities, and it doesn’t come in take away cups. You stop at the bar en route to work or school for a quick shot of coffee, and you usually don’t even sit down for it.
- Stopping for a coffee at other points in the day is normal and accepted, and because the quantity is still small, you’re not really at risk of being up all night from a 2pm shot.
- You’ve probably heard that Italians don’t drink cappuccino after 11am; but what this comes from is the Italian belief that drinking milk after a meal affects digestion. So Italians just won’t order a cappuccino after a meal, no matter what time of day it is. In Italy, a cappuccino is the meal.
TIME TO GET YOUR MOUTH AROUND ITALIAN COFFEE LINGO:
A caffè Americano is sort of partway between the American-style coffee and more traditional Italian coffee. It’s espresso that’s been watered down a bit and it’s served in a bigger cup than the tiny espresso cups. Consider this the gateway drug between American coffee and Italian coffee.
caffè kahf|FEH (Espresso or Short Black)
While caffè is a general term for coffee, when you’re in a bar this is what you’d order if you just wanted a single shot of espresso. Italians don’t order “un espresso,” they order “un caffè.”
So as mentioned above, “espresso” isn’t a word you’ll use when you’re ordering coffee in Italy.
Probably Italy’s most famous coffee export, the cappuccino is supposed to be roughly 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foam. The history of where the cappuccino gets its name is actually really fun, but don’t worry – there’s no quiz at the bar to order one. And y’know what? If you want to have a cappuccino after lunch, or after dinner, go ahead. The waiter won’t freak out if you order one because you’re not Italian; but if you really want to get into the local swing of things, stick with a straight caffè after a meal.
P.S. They don’t throw a load of chocolate powder on top like we Aussies do.
This coffee drink isn’t for the morning, but it’s a great after-dinner treat. Why? Because it’s a shot of espresso with a shot of liquor. Probably the most common alcoholic additions are grappa, Baileys, or Sambuca, but if the restaurant you’re in has a full bar you can probably have just about anything added that you’d like. “Corretto” means “correct” – insinuating that all other coffee drinks are, therefore, incorrect. But of course!
doppio DOHP|pyoh (Double Espresso)
That tiny caffè not enough to get you going in the morning? Then order a caffè doppio, a double espresso, for two shots in a slightly larger cup.
freddo FREHD|doh (Iced Coffee)
The word “freddo” means cold, and this is usually an espresso that’s been either left out to cool down or actually put in the fridge to speed the process. It’s served cold or cool.
“Freddo cappuccino” is the same, only topped up with cold milk.
When the summer heat makes drinking a hot cup of caffè unbearable, the Italians make granita di caffè. Think of it like a coffee slushy. Only better.
latte LAHT|teh (cafe Latte)
Okay, people, this may be your drink of choice, but in Italy this just means “milk.” That’s all. If you order a latte in the corner bar, you’ll get glass of cold milk. There is a coffee drink in Italy that uses this word, but it’s kind of a stretch to call it a coffee drink. In Italy, a caffè latte is basically a tall glass of steamed milk with a small shot of espresso in it. I’ve seen Italians order this, so it’s not totally crazy, you’ve just got to be sure to add the word “caffè” on there if you want something other than a big glass o’milk.
lungo LOON|goh (Long Black)
This word literally means “long,” and this drink is partway between a caffè Americano and a regular Italian caffè. In other words, it’s got more water in it than a caffè, but it’s water that’s been run through the same coffee grounds rather than just hot water added afterwards (the latter is in the case of a caffè Americano), resulting in a slightly weaker flavor than a regular shot of espresso.
The word “macchiato” comes from the Italian word for “stained,” so this drink is essentially meant to be a shot of espresso “stained” with a drop or two of hot milk.
A caffè ristretto is essentially a single shot of espresso with less water than a traditional shot. So it’s the same amount of coffee with less water passing through it, making the flavor much more concentrated. This can also be called a caffè stretto.
piccolo pic | orlo
Traditionally, a Piccolo Latte is a ristretto shot (15 – 20 ml) topped with warm, silky milk served in a 100 ml glass demitasse (small latte glass) … basically, a baby latte, as the Italian pronunciation suggests. There have been other names for this drink, such as the Spanish version Cataldo, or a Mezzo-Mezzo.
This is another brand name that’s come to represent everything in its category. In this case, this is decaf coffee. The generic term, un deca, can also be tried if you get blank stares when you start out by ordering un Hag. Either word you use, you can get decaf versions of everything on this list – like a marocchino Hag or a doppio Hag.
What is a marocchino? It’s a shot of espresso, a sprinkle of cacao powder, and a layer of foamed milk. It’s worth noting that you won’t find marocchino on the menu everywhere.
This word means “cream,” and in the case of a coffee context it’s referring to the dollop of whipped cream you may or may not want on top of your caffè. You can get panna with any of the coffee drinks listed. Just ask for whatever drink you want con panna.
The word “scuro” means dark, and you may know it if you buy Italian espresso at home and it’s a dark roast. But in an Italian bar, “scuro” isn’t something you’re likely to use often. One instance when you might is if you like your cappuccino with a little less milk, though not as little as a macchiato – you could order a cappuccino scuro and it would be a bit darker in color than a normal cappuccino.
It’s a shot of espresso mixed with milk, ice, and sugar in a cocktail shaker and served in a tall glass with the foam scooped from the shaker on top. Yum.