Italians’ passion for coffee is well known throughout the world. In fact, coffee is so integrated into Italian culture and its “rules” are so precise that foreigners often struggle to understand how to order the national drink. For a review, see the post, Il Culto del Caffè, June 16, 2016.
Recently, our Santa Barbara Italian conversation group took a language course from a delightful teacher. Eight of us talked non-stop, cooked together, studied grammar, and learned about Italian history, culture, and customs. We shared “Dieci modi di bere il caffè in Italia”—10 ways to drink coffee in Italy:
Espresso is the “normal” coffee. In other words, espresso is the default setting. If don’t want to wave your foreign passport in public, it’s better not to use the word “espresso” but instead to ask for “un caffè, per favore” at the bar.
Caffè ristretto or basso (restricted or short) has less water and is therefore a very small coffee, at times only a few drops.
Caffè lungo is prepared by adding more water than usual, thus obtaining a coffee with more caffeine than normal. If it is served in a large cup, you have American coffee, which Italians sometimes call acqua sporca (dirty water).
This type of coffee comes from an ancient Milanese custom, which consisted of diluting coffee in milk to make it drinkable even for children. It is served in a small cup.
This is prepared in a large cup with coffee and whipped milk and foam. It is consumed almost exclusively at breakfast. If the milk is not whipped and is served in a glass, you have a caffellate. Italians never order either after lunch or dinner because they shiver at the thought of hot milk hitting a full stomach. If foreigners want to break this rule, it would be polite to excuse yourself to the barista.
It looks like a small cappuccino, but in reality, it is prepared with coffee, liquid cream and cocoa. You can drink it almost exclusively in Turin or Milan. Another regional coffee is caffè alla nocciola (hazelnut coffee) from Naples, which is a frothy espresso with hazelnut cream.
A mocaccino is a cappuccino with chocolate and sometimes served with the addition of cocoa powder. It is prepared in a glass in order to show the layers of coffee, chocolate, and milk foam.
In a caffè corretto (corrected or laced), you add a dose—large or small—of grappa, brandy, or other alcoholic beverage.
This is coffee made very cold with ice. It can be consumed sweetened or bitter.
Hag espresso coffee is decaffeinated coffee.