Coffee is an essential element of my daily routine. I start my morning with a hot cup of joe, sip on cold-brews in the afternoon, and even end my day with a double-shot on ice from the Starbucks conveniently located outside the school library. As you may have gathered at this point, I really enjoy a good cup of coffee. But, what do I love even more? Other people who share the same appreciation for this tasty beverage and coffee culture. After deciding to study abroad in Florence, Italy this semester, I was as equally thrilled about the Italian's love for caffè as most study abroad students are about the unlimited pizza and gelato.
From my first moments in Europe at the airport cafè, to now a patron at the local bar (the Italian word for a coffee shop), I've learned quite a few tips and tricks to fitting in in the Italian coffee culture. Below are five ways coffee culture differs in Italy compared to what you may be used to back in the States. Sit back and prepare to have your caffeinated mind blown.
At the cafè, it is assumed your order is "for here". To-go (or as the Italians say "take-away") cups are available in more places these days, however, it is not always a guarantee and generally, the locals do not enjoy their coffee in this manor. Now before you reach for your wallet please know if you had planned to enjoy your drink in a chair you will be paying more than your fellow patrons standing at the bar. Yes, you heard me correctly. By choosing to sit, you are paying for the service of a waiter.
In the beginning, I made the mistake of simply saying "un coffee" and expecting a large black-drip coffee like one could expect at an American breakfast joint. Wrong. The barista served me a single shot of espresso correctly referred to as "un caffè". Note to self: Order a caffè americano in the future for the closest thing to a typical American black coffee.
Latte vs. Cafè Latte
Finally, after scouring the menu, you see the familiar word "latte" and do a mini happy dance in line before ordering. After paying, the barista slides a glass of milk in front of you at the bar. This is not what I ordered? Oh, but it most certainly is because unlike in America where the nickname "latte" gets you an espresso with steamed milk, in Italy you receive exactly what you asked for, milk. Latte directly translates to milk, so to enjoy the classic version with espresso, make sure to clearly say, "un caffè latte, per favore".
Iced coffee is seen very differently in the eyes of Italian baristas. Good luck finding a vanilla iced coffee on any cafè menu. Italians do have a couple spins on the traditional iced coffee drink, though. Most notably the one I mistakingly ordered, caffè freddo, translates directly to "cold coffee". My "cold coffee" resembled a Wendy's frosty with the same consistency of a milkshake rather than coffee poured over ice.
Flavored syrups, pumps and shots are unheard of in Italy. Don't even think about ordering a caramel macchiato, mocha, double-chocolate chip frappuccino or anything of the sort.
Now next time you find yourself in an Italian coffee bar, take this advice to avoid any potential embarrassment. You can thank me later.