The unwritten rules of Italian coffee

The unwritten rules of Italian coffee

'Un caffè, per favore'

Did you know that Italians don't drink coffee with milk after 11? Essteele cookware has compiled the perfect guide to navigate the sophisticated world of Italian coffee (and theunwritten rules!)with our practical guide designed to have you ordering like a local.

The first thing you realise when travelling to Italy is that the word caffè is not the venue but the beverage. What the Australians, Americans, and British refer to as cafes, Italians call bars, and un caffè is the actual coffee itself.

Morning rituals:

If your preference is a milk based coffee, be sure to order before 11 am, never in the afternoon, and especially not after a meal as Italians believe a milky coffee hinders digestion. Don't be surprised if you order a latte and are met with confusion as latte still simply means 'milk' in Italian.

Stand don't sit: Blend like a local and stand al banco (at the bar) with animated Italians who expertly down their un caffè in quick succession. Italians usually drink coffee four to five times a day, a revered experience that doubles as an excuse for a catch-up and a caffeine hit combined. The coffee outing is seen as an important social occasion, taken in small doses over tiny espresso cups where friends and strangers chat, professionals dash out for a 10-minute work break and the concept of take-away coffee is the antithesis of this cherished ritual.

Order first, pay later:

In Italy, it is common to order and drink your coffee first, then pay at the register. Locals don't ask for an espresso, they simply request, 'un caffè, per favore' and in return receive a short, strong black shot accompanied by a small glass of water meant for cleansing the palate.

Adding a sweetener to a caffè or cappuccino is not uncommon, but varies from region to region. In Naples, caffè alla nocciola which includes hazelnut cream is popular whilst those in the Marche region favour the 'caffè anisette', an aniseed-flavoured espresso and in Milan locals enjoy marocchino, which is cocoa powder, steamed milk and a shot of espresso.

Deciphering the coffee menu in Italian bars can be tricky so below is a handy reference to the most common types of coffee on order:

Caff√® macchiato: an espresso with a dash of frothy milk. Note this is not regarded as a breakfast brew, so is acceptable to drink at any time of the day. Often the barista will ask, “Latte caldo o freddo?“, asking whether you want the milk hot or cold.

Caff√® corretto: Literally translated as “corrected coffee,“ this is a shot of espresso powered up with a splash of alcohol, such as sweet grappa, brandy or sambuca.

Caffè americano: Regarded as the drink of tourists, this is really just an espresso diluted with hot water.

Caff√® lungo: This “long coffee“ is an espresso with a splash of hot water but stronger than the americano.

One final tip

If an Italian family invites you for lunch or dinner, buy a packet of ground Arabica beans for their moka pot: it will be a much-welcomed gift.

Want more? Check out Essteele's essential guide to buying and storing olive oil, find the perfect accompaniment with our 2017 wine guide or find out more about hand-made Italian cheese

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