Italian coffee culture

Drinking caffè (coffee) in Italy

Italians drink caffè (coffee) throughout the day, but only a little at a time and often while standing in a bar—remember, a “bar” in Italy is the place to go for your daily caffeine buzz. There’s usually liquor available too, but it’s the caffè that draws the customers. And your cuppa Joe will always be cheaper if you drink it standing at the bar than if you take a table.

Five types of coffee are popular in Italy:

  • Espresso: If you order plain old caffè, this is what you will get: straight espresso in a demi-tasse, saturated with sugar and downed in one gulp. Espresso from a machine (as opposed to that made in the stove-top kettles most Italians use at home) is made by forcing steam through the tightly packed grounds, and despite popular perception it actually contains less caffeine than typical American drip coffee; it's the rich taste that makes espresso seem so strong.
  • Cappuccino is espresso mixed with hot milk and an overlay of foamy steamed milk, usually sipped for breakfast with a pastry and never as an after-dinner drink.
  • Caffè macchiato is espresso "stained" with a wee drop of steamed milk. This is my favoite—kind of a mini cappuccino, only with much less milk.
  • Latte macchiato is the reverse, a glass of hot milk “stained” with a shot of espresso.
  • Caffè coretto is espresso “corrected” with a shot of liquor.

Also available, and ordered primarily by foreigners:

  • Caffè Hag is decaf.
  • Caffè americano. Most Italians hold in disdain the murky, watered-down dishwater that percolates in offices and kitchens across America and passes for "coffee," so if you want a big, steaming mug like the stuff at home, you’ll have to order caffè americano—and what you will usually get instead is a caffè lungo.
  • Caffè lungo: An espresso that has been "elongated" with hot water.

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