Ten Insights into Italian Culture: #10 – Coffee in Italy
There is a lot to say about coffee in Italy and the whole Italian coffee culture. The first thing you need to know is that there is no such thing as free coffee in Italy (Americans take note––at your hotel or at events, expect to purchase your own cuppa ol’ Joe). Here are some other important insights from the (unofficial) Italian Coffee Rule Book:
- What North Americans drink as coffee is widely considered to be acqua sporca by Italians, due to its extremely low caffeine level
- There are many types of coffee in Italy, such as espresso, doppio, macchiato, cappuccino, lungo, americano, mocaccino, and so on. New variations are becoming increasingly common
- A corretto is coffee that contains alcohol; a corretto vermut, for example, is coffee containing vermouth
- Variations on coffee (eg, coffee with milk, or coffee with alcohol) can have different names in different regions (eg, the macchiatone of Veneto is unheard of in Milan)
- Cappuccino is to be drunk prior to lunchtime unless you are part of the demographic category defined as the “elderly” population
- Do not submerge your intense espresso (usually served 2 cm deep in a micro cup) with milk to try to dilute it…you will be regarded as a martian for desecrating your coffee!!!
- Do not put too much sugar in your coffee, and don’t ask for weird North American toppings like whipped cream, health powders, or any other natural or artificial product
- It is a common ritual for workers to drink their coffee within 30 seconds after receiving it at the bar; on the weekend and during vacation, however, some may actually sit down to drink it (remember that sitting at a table is subject to an additional cover charge, though)
- If you are North American and in the habit of going to a coffeeshop and spending the entire afternoon there with your computer, note that you will observe hundreds of people entering, ordering, drinking, and exiting the bar or caffe (each one in less time than it takes you to read this entire sentence). Meanwhile, you will be stared at by curious locals, and the manager will likely be glaring at you the whole time (thinking to him or herself: You are still there???!!! You bought only 1 coffee???!!!), even if there are dozens of free seats available
- Italians love inviting friends out for coffee; it is standard cultural practice, as well as an important way to make small talk and network with acquaintances
- As an alternative to coffee, there is orzo coffee (made of barley), which may come in handy when you are being invited out to coffee for the third time in one day and are worried about becoming hyper
- Be as critical towards coffee as Italians are. If you are invited out for coffee, try saying, “OK, but take me to a place that has very good coffee.” And after you’ve had the coffee, tell your friend, “The coffee was very good! Really amazing!” to make their day. For Italians, picking a place to have coffee can be more difficult than choosing a spouse!