A Guide to Coffee & Cocktails in Italy

Italy has created some of my very favorite things. From Ferragamo to Ferrari to fettuccine, Italians know what’s good. So, why would their coffee and cocktails be any different?

My Coffee Cup Runneth Over

Coffee didn’t originate in Italy, but Italians got it there as quickly as they could. Although they didn’t invent java, they surely perfected the art of drinking it. Without Italy, Starbucks wouldn’t exist. There are currently no Starbucks in Italy, but the country’s coffee culture did inspire the company’s CEO, Howard Schultz, to create the internationally known brand as it is today. That’s a testament to Italy’s coffee influence.

Rome Italy Lant Eustachio Espresso Coffee

Leave it to the Italians to call a place where you can get juice, pastries, and coffee–a bar. I’m sure you are having visions of booze bottles, pool tables, and unsanitary bathrooms. Don’t be put off by the bar term. Coffee bars in Italy are family oriented and cater to professionals who only have time for a quick cup of java.

When ordering in a coffee bar, keep in mind that there can be a difference in price that is determined by sitting or standing. A cappuccino can cost four times as much if you sit at a table rather than drinking it at the bar. Italians drink their coffee quickly at the bar, leaving the tables for the tourists. But don’t order a coffee by asking the bartender without your receipt in hand. At best he will ignore you. At worst he will give you a go-to-hell look.

Rome Italy Lant Eustachio Coffee Bar

To order an espresso in Italy, you can simply ask for a caffe and remember to drink it quickly. Espresso is not made to sip; it is made to be drunk in two or three drinks. Coffee is not served by itself and is drunk after a meal {with the exception of breakfast}. Ordering any coffee with milk after 11 am runs you the risk of being laughed at. I certainly don’t adhere to this rule. Laugh at me, but give me my after-dinner cappuccino.

Rome Italy Lant Eustachio Coffee

There are numerous varieties of coffee drinks that you can order and each one is delicious. Here are just a few:

  • Espresso : Known as caffe in Italy, served in a small cup  and strong in taste
  • Doppio : A double espresso
  • Lungo or Caffè Americano: An espresso made with more water
  • Macchiato: Espresso that has steamed milk on top
  • Cappuccino: Equal parts espresso, steamed milk, and foamed milk
  • Caffè Latte: Espresso made with more milk than a cappuccino and a small amount of foam, normally a breakfast drink
  • Latte Macchiato: Steamed milk that includes a shot of espresso coffee

I can’t get enough coffee when I’m in Italy, and I’m convinced that the country would grind {pun intended} to a halt if disappeared.

Italian latte Coffee

Straight Up or On the Rocks

Leave it to the Italians to create some of the most famous, classic cocktails in the world. Let’s not forget the delicious liqueurs produced there as well. The Italians have a much more liberal attitude about alcohol than Americans. They certainly don’t need an excuse or special occasion to have a cocktail. Perhaps living in Italy is reason enough to celebrate.

Four Seasons Florence Italy Negroni

Venice gave us the Bellini, a fusion of fresh peach juice and Prosecco served straight up. The Negroni hails from Florence and is becoming better known in the States. It’s a mixture of sweet vermouth, gin, and Campari that Italians clamor for. The Golden Cadillac, Campari and Soda, Americano, Caruso, and Rossini are also Italian classics. Be adventurous. If you don’t like the one you have, drink it down and order something different.

Even with the voluminous quantities of food that the Italians eat, they still seem to have room for a digestif, or after-dinner drink. A classic choice is Fernet-Branca, originally created in Milan as a stomach medicine. It is a bitter concoction. If you’re not that daring, there is a mint-flavored variety that can be served straight up or mixed with Coke. Similarly is China Antico Elixir, another medicinal-flavored liquor. It’s best when mixed with citrus flavors and can be drunk as an aperitif.

Four Seasons Florence Italy Bar China Antico Elixir

If you want something a little sweeter after dinner, have some limoncello. It’s a sugary, lemon-flavored drink. The best is homemade and is available in most every restaurant. Keep in mind that it’s about 30 proof alcohol, so don’t let the sweetness fool you. I absolutely made that mistake and paid the price.

Four Seasons Florence Italy Bar

Italy is about indulging, and there’s no better way to celebrate being in Rome, Florence, Milan, or Naples than a morning cappuccino, an afternoon espresso, and an evening Rossini. Alla tua salute!

 

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44 Comments
  • Amanda @ Adventure Year
    August 20, 2013

    Oh gosh, when I studied abroad in Italy, it was SO overwhelming to pick a coffee. I didn’t even like coffee back then, so I didn’t get to really delve into it. I would love to go back with my taste buds and show them how it’s really done! Cool post. 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      A return trip is certainly in order. All kinds of coffee must be tried. That should be at least a month-long trip, I’d say.

  • Aaron
    August 20, 2013

    Of course this post is right up my alley. Do hope to get there someday to experience. I would probably be laughed at a lot there haha. Thanks for sharing, lots of fun!

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      You and me both, Aaron. Who cares? 🙂

  • fotoeins | Henry
    August 20, 2013

    Just for that, Leah, a city, regional, or nation-wide tour of coffee and cocktail bars would be a massive lifelong undertaking. I’d look no further than you and a few of your fave cohorts for a project like this: it’s a tough job, but hey, you know you wanna do it. 😉

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      Oh, I think I’d have to beat people away with a stick who’d want to sign up for that project. I’m also pretty sure that I wouldn’t survive more than a month of that…my liver and my waistline.

  • Jennifer
    August 20, 2013

    Don’t worry, Leah! I live in Italy and order a cappuccino after dinner. One cocktail I would add is the Spritz Aperol. It’s drank all throughout Italy, though comes from the North. It’s Prosecco, Aperol, and soda water served with a slice of orange.

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      Oh, I’ll have to try a spritz aperol. I’ve heard the name, but didn’t know what is in it. Sounds delicious!

  • Walter
    August 20, 2013

    My favorite drink is the Negroni. On the one side it tastes like tooth paste – somehow – but on the other side its slight bitterness is perfect after an Italian style dinner. But beware, 4 or 5 of them on the same evening can have a heavy effect…

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      I’m not a huge fan of the Negroni, precisely because of the way you described the taste: toothpaste. I’ll sip on one, but certainly won’t order it.

  • Becky Padmore
    August 21, 2013

    Bellini’s are my favourite, going to Tuscany soon so will definitely have to try out some more cocktails!

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      Love bellinis. They tend to be a brunch drink for me, but certainly good at anytime. Enjoy Tuscany!

  • Lance | Trips By Lance
    August 21, 2013

    My drinking habits are too simple for Italy. I only drink black coffee and primarily drink beer and wine. So when I was in Italy I was very simple, although I honestly don’t remember having much coffee. I think I was on a carafe of wine by lunch and not letting up until I went to bed.

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      What a waste, Lance! Although, I do love wine, too. I just couldn’t get into that on this post. It’s far too extensive of a subject. 😉

  • the lazy travelers
    August 21, 2013

    coffee ANYWHERE in europe is amazing, but you cant beat sipping on a cappuccino in an italian cafe (except for maybe sipping on an espresso in a french cafe!).

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      Yes, you’re absolutely right. It’s hard to beat the espresso in a French cafe. Le sigh…

  • Traveling Ted
    August 21, 2013

    Thanks for the little lesson on coffee, cocktails, and Italy. I have never made it to Italy, but I love coffee, so it gives me another reason besides my heritage to visit.

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      Stop it. You’ve never been to Italy, Ted? This needs to be rectified soon.

  • Raul (@ilivetotravel)
    August 22, 2013

    They sure treat coffee in Italy as a serious thing. In my family’s culture (Cuban), you have at least 4-5 “expresos” every day – not sure quite how they do it! The digestifs are probably why Italians CAN eat so much – something we should not let people know here in the U.S….

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      Can you imagine if the digestifs caught on in the US? We’d be fatter than ever!

  • Mary Anne
    August 22, 2013

    Negroni and Bellini are my two favorite words. <3

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      Haha…well, I’m not surprised in the least.

  • Erin at The World Wanderer
    August 22, 2013

    Coffee, cocktails, AND Italy?! What’s not to love about this post!!? The coffee in Italy is fantastic, I can clearly remember it and it’s been years. Guess it’s time to make my way back, huh?

    • Leah Walker
      August 24, 2013

      I’m the same way. I remember the first coffee I drank in Italy and that was at least eight years ago. A return trip is certainly in order.

  • Lisa
    August 25, 2013

    We ordered a lot of coffee at the bar in Paris because of the price difference for sitting at a table. I can’t wait to try a cappuccino in Italy too!

    • Leah Walker
      September 15, 2013

      Ohhh…cappuccino in Italy is the best. Just like espresso in Paris is divine.

  • Kieu ~ GQ trippin
    August 25, 2013

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to enter a coffee house in Italy and order an espresso but get so intimidated and nervous by the morning crowd who clearly knows what they’re doing.. lol. Thanks for the tip. I’ll give it another go next time I’m in Italy which I hope is much sooner rather than later.

    • Leah Walker
      September 11, 2013

      I was exactly the same way, even though I knew what to expect.

  • Scott - Quirky Travel Guy
    August 25, 2013

    I love that there’s no Starbucks there. Local places do it better anyway 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      September 15, 2013

      Starbucks just don’t belong in Italy. It will be a sad day when the green straws arrive. 🙁

  • Hogga
    August 27, 2013

    this has made me quite thirsty

    • Leah Walker
      September 11, 2013

      I have a feeling that’s a common event for you.

  • lola dimarco
    August 28, 2013

    i’m with Hogga. mmmm coffee and booze

    • Leah Walker
      September 11, 2013

      Two of your favorites, I know.

  • 3onthego
    September 27, 2013

    Worst country to visit pregnant — no coffee, no booze. I speak from experience 🙂

    • Leah Walker
      September 27, 2013

      Ohhhh…bless your heart. I imagine that would be terrible!

  • Raffaella
    October 6, 2013

    What a fun post to read, to the point and beautiful shots… Cin cin!

    • Leah Walker
      October 6, 2013

      That’s so sweet of you to say. Thanks for reading and the comment.

  • Nathalie
    October 7, 2013

    Cool and refreshing post. It’s also interesting to know that, apart from the famous wine tasting and guided visits in wineries, in Italy you can also enjoy limoncello/prosecco/grappa tours and tastings, really fun to do and also provide an insight into local traditions and culture

  • Chris P
    November 26, 2013

    two words “caffe corretto”

    • Leah Walker
      November 30, 2013

      On my to-do list.

  • The Travel Liz
    January 22, 2014

    Once again, a great and informative post! I am going to Italy in October and I am definitely going to drink more than enough coffee and cocktails!

    Happy travels!

    • Leah Walker
      January 23, 2014

      Thanks, Liz. I can’t wait to return to Italy. I need more coffee and cocktails in my life. 🙂

  • whywasteannualleave
    June 4, 2014

    I’m so glad someone has cleared this up for me – as a non regular coffee drinker, I still get confused between machiatos, lattes, latte machiatos (the list is endless!) – this has really cleared things up! 🙂

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