Americans sure do love their coffee, and so do Italians, but before you go ordering your morning “latte” or a simple filter coffee, there are some major distinctions you should know about how Italians obtain their daily caffeine fix. I’ll take you through a typical interaction that you may have when you enter a coffee bar in Florence, a loud and fast-paced environment where the barista will welcome you with a standard “buongiorno” as you enter the bar. Do yourself a favor and initiate this greeting, or at the very least respond with a friendly “ciao” or “buongiorno” before you tell them your coffee order.
It is only polite to acknowledge the person who will be preparing your coffee! The barista will wait expectantly for you to tell them what you would like, but often times not too patiently, so if you’re not sure right away then ordering coffee will probably be the most stressful part of your visit! Just as helpful hint – it’s a good idea to go into the bar knowing what you will order!
So now that you are in the café, faced with the task of telling the barista what kind of coffee you’d like, what will you order? Unless you want a glass of milk, please don’t order a latte. In Italian “latte” is the word for milk. So, if you want to order what we call a latte in English, order a “caffe latte,” which is an espresso with foamed milk. Other popular beverages include the well-known and loved cappuccino, espresso and macchiato.
Before I arrived in Florence, I didn’t realize the seemingly infinite combinations and ratios of milk, espresso and foam that would make your head spin, even before you drink your coffee! But if you are looking for a simple drip coffee, ask for a “café americano,” which is black coffee diluted with hot water. Additional cream or milk added into a coffee is no such thing, so if you are not fond of black coffee, order an espresso beverage already prepared with milk!
Now that you have ordered and been served your café (and maybe try a croissant to eat with it!), sit down with your warm little cup and enjoy! Italians never take their coffee to-go, translated as “per portare via,” preferring to savor their beverage sitting down at a table or standing at the coffee bar.
I guess this makes sense, especially if you down your coffee like cough medicine in about 30 seconds, like the majority of the locals I have observed! But in all seriousness, take those few minutes to enjoy your drink, pay the barista when you’re finished and bid them “grazie, arrivederci,” thank you and goodbye. It’s the only way to savor the best coffee in the world!