A lot of people are surprised to find out that no, Italy doesn’t have a Starbucks or any kind of take-away coffee culture. And it’s easy to see why. Not to be all snobby (OK maybe I’m being a snob) but that double bubble mocha frappe latte chino crap on the Starbucks menu is not the kind of thing you would ever see here, because that’s not really coffee is it? Its more of a liquefied Victoria sponge cake blended to within an inch of its life, with cream on top and served in a Styrofoam cup with a mermaid on it. Who is she?
Having said that, I love the feel of American coffee shops; being able to linger over a coffee (or a mocha-OK I’m a hypocrite!!) and work on the laptop/read a book or hang out with friends is so enjoyable when it’s cold outside and Costa are offering double points. in Italy, however, the coffee culture is completely different and you need a whole new vocabulary to navigate the murky, caffeinated waters of Italian coffee.
Firstly, SIZES. OK America, we get it, you like large, but forget the sizes of grande, venti or whatever, this is one size fits all. Here, they only have one size and its baby-sized, the coffees are tiny cups filed with one shot of coffee that you can take at the bar or at the table (tavolo), which is a little more expensive. A café is called a bar and a coffee is called un caffé. It’s normal for most Italians to start the day with breakfast (colazione) at a bar and eat a cornetto (sweet pastry dusted with sugar sometimes with chocolate) or biscotti with a cappuccino and a packet of sugar (zucchero). Dentists in Italy must be making a killing!
Prices vary, but even in Rome if you’re not getting ripped off, you can get a coffee for €0.80-1.00 at the bar, more if you’re sitting down. This is in very stark contrast to the prices your normally pay in Starbucks and other coffee chains, where you can pay around €2.50 for take-away coffee, which will be watered down and filled with sugar. Another thing is that here, they don’t do take-away Styrofoam cups. The coffees are so small you can normally finish them in one gulp and people normally come to the bar between work hours to get their fix, not to shoot the breeze or take their Cake In A Cup to their stressful workplace, whilst yapping away on their BlackBerry.
Latte in Italy just means milk, so don’t bother ordering this at the bar. A macchiato is a shot of espresso “stained” with milk, a cappuccino is half milk and half coffee and a caffé normale is just a shot of espresso. My favourite drink is un marochino, which is a smaller shot of espresso with cream (panna) and chocolate sprinkles on top. It is definitely the prettiest coffee I’ve ordered (see main picture) and at the café near my house normally comes with complimentary biscuits. The calling card of a tourist is ordering a cappuccino after 11am, which most Italians would never do, because apparently milk hinders digestion. It seems only Italy got this memo and whilst there are stories of Italians recoiling in horror whenever an afternoon cappuccino is requested, they’re used to tourists by now.
You’re normally served a glass of water with your coffee, but if not you can ask for one. In some places you order first and then pay and in others you pay first at the cash register and then bring your receipt to the barrista. Try and ask for the coffees in Italian and you’re less likely to get ripped off in the tourist centre. The coffee culture is one of my favourite things about Italy and whilst I barely drink any in England, I have become addicted to them here!