Italians may not have invented coffee, but they have certainly worked hard over the years to perfect the quality and enjoyment of it. Coffee was first imported to Venice in the 16th century. It was love at first sip, and the romance has only intensified over the centuries. Italians invented and refined what we now know to be the espresso machine, and the world of coffee has never been the same.
Il Gelateo del Caffè
Coffee is such an important element in Italian culture that there is an entire system of etiquette built around it. Il gelateo del caffè, or Italian coffee etiquette are the simple rules Italians follow to maintain the high quality of the coffee experience and ensure the perfect cup.
While there are many other coffee drinks in Italy, the perfect Italian cup of coffee is espresso (known as caffè), and it includes the four M’s:
- Miscela – using the appropriate coffee blend.
- Macinadosatore – a machine that grinds and measures a precise amount of coffee.
- Macchina per Espresso – the complex machine used to create the perfect caffè.
- Mano – the hand (and expertise) of the barista, which make the perfect cup of coffee possible.
In this process, hot water is forced through finely ground beans. The result is a rich, flavorful cup of coffee.
Caffè Comes in One Size: Tiny
Unlike the many sizes of American coffee, Italians prefer a single two- or three-ounce cup. Since espresso is potent and straight to the point, three or four sips (instead of one gulp) are all you need in one sitting. Espresso is acceptable any time of day, and it’s not uncommon for Italians to drink seven or eight throughout the day.
Italians Drink Caffè at the Bar
Bars in Italy are open all day and may serve light food and other drinks, but the main purpose of an Italian bar is to offer excellent coffee. If the bar is busy, you might pay first and show your receipt to the barista. Italians do not linger for hours over their coffee, and they don’t take coffee to go. Generally, you stand at the bar and the whole experience lasts around five minutes, from ordering to finishing your drink.
Milk is for the Morning!
A cappuccino with pastry is the traditional Italian breakfast. But you’ll get funny looks if you ask for a milky coffee drink in the afternoon or evening—Italians believe it sits too heavy later in the day.
The Perfect Caffè Experience
The most important points of Italian Coffee etiquette involve how to drink it—and there is a right way!
Water before Caffè
Caffè is often served with a small glass of sparkling or mineral water. A few sips of water act as a palate cleanser and prime the taste buds to fully appreciate the intense aroma and flavor of the espresso.
Caffè Spoon Dos and Don’ts
An Italian caffè comes with a tiny spoon. Even if you drink yours black, do use the spoon to mix your caffè. But instead of stirring in a circle, lightly move the spoon from top to bottom. This mixes the layers of espresso more thoroughly in the cup, creating a more consistent flavor in each sip.
Try not to clink the spoon in your cup, since it makes an unpleasant noise. And do not lick the spoon after mixing your coffee! To Italians, this is incredibly bad mannered.
The Two Minute Rule of Caffè
Once an espresso is made, up to 50% of the flavor dissipates in the first two minutes. An Italian barista will serve your coffee as soon as it’s made, so there is no time to waste! Mix delicately, take a little water, then enjoy your caffè in small sips.
Some of the rules of Italian Coffee Etiquette are surprising, but all serve the same purpose—to encourage you to be fully present in the moment and enjoy the perfect cup of Italian coffee in all its intensity.
Italians don’t tolerate a bad cup of coffee, and we don’t either. If the full caffè experience at an Italian coffee bar is not on your immediate horizon, our dark Italian Roast coffee is a great alternative!
Italian Coffee Etiquette References