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Italian Coffee Types and Drinks Explained

Italian coffee is steeped in lore and traditions. Here are some of the most essential things you should know about Italian coffee drinks.

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Asser Christensen

Licensed Q Arabica Grader, M.A. Journalism

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Steeped in rich history and tradition, Italian coffee is not just a beverage but a quintessential part of the cultural fabric that binds the country together.

From the frothy crest of a morning cappuccino to the sip of an caffè corretto (espresso with liquor) in the evening, Italian coffee has many faces.

In this article, you’ll learn to order and drink coffee like the Italians. Ready to embrace the caffeinated dolce vita? Andiamo! 🤌

Why is Italian Coffee Espresso Based?

Italy’s rich coffee culture stems from its historical embrace of espresso machines, introduced during the late stages of industrial revolution and urbanization.

Since the espresso machine was invented in Italy, the country got a huge head start to coffee culture.

As a result, espresso-based beverages became the norm in Italy, and coffee bars evolved into popular social hubs and frontrunners of coffee culture.

The rest of us have been busy trying to catch up since the 1980s when Italian coffee culture started to spread in the US via Starbucks.

Now, let’s explore the typical Italian coffees you’re likely to encounter in Italy.

An espresso and a cappuccino. These symbols of Italian coffee have spread to every corner of the globe

Types of Italian Coffee Drinks

  1. Caffè (aka Caffè Normale): If you order a “caffè” in Italy you get an espresso. That’s their standard coffee. It’s usually served in small espresso cups. It’s thick, concentrated, and of course topped with a layer of crema (the creamy, flavorful foam that forms naturally during brewing).
  2. Caffè Ristretto: A shorter, more intense version of the caffè normale, the ristretto uses the same amount of coffee grounds but half the water, resulting in a smaller, stronger shot of espresso.
  3. Caffè Doppio: A double shot of espresso, the caffè doppio is made using a double coffee basket and produces twice the volume of a caffè normale. This size is pretty much the standard size in specialty coffee shops in other parts of the world.
  4. Caffè shakerato: A refreshing Italian coffee beverage typically enjoyed in warmer months. Shake an espresso vigorously with sugar or syrup and ice until it becomes frothy. The result is a chilled, creamy coffee drink with a delightful foam top.
  5. Caffè Lungo: As the name suggests, this “long” coffee drink uses a longer extraction time, resulting in a larger, milder espresso-based beverage.
  6. Cappuccino: A classic Italian favorite, the cappuccino consists of a double shot of espresso, hot milk, and frothed milk. Optional: a dusting of cocoa powder on top for extra indulgence.
  7. Latte Macchiato: The inverse of an espresso macchiato, the latte macchiato is steamed milk “stained” with a shot of espresso, providing a milder coffee flavor.
  8. Caffè Americano: Italians see “American coffee” as something thinner. So this is an espresso shot diluted with water. Or sometimes it’s an espresso shot served with a little pitcher of hot water on the side.
  9. Caffè Corretto: A shot of espresso with a small measure of liquor, usually grappa, the caffè corretto is a popular after-dinner drink in Italy.
  10. Caffè Decaffeinato: For those who prefer to avoid caffeine, the caffè decaffeinato is a standard decaffeinated coffee option.
  11. Caffè Macchiato: Espresso “stained” with a drop of frothed milk, the caffè macchiato is a delicious balance of strong espresso and creamy milk. It’s worth noting that the quantity of milk in a caffè macchiato is much less than that in a cappuccino or a latte.
  12. Caffè Macchiato Freddo: This variation is similar to a caffè macchiato, but a small amount of cold milk is added to the espresso instead of hot milk. This contrasts with the hot espresso, resulting in a refreshing coffee drink that is delightful in warmer weather.

As you can see from this list, Italian coffee culture is deeply rooted in espresso-based beverages, offering a variety of drinks to suit every palate and preference.

However, let’s just take a moment to appreciate the odd one out:

The Moka Pot

This brewing method is the most popular way for Italians to enjoy their coffee at home.

The simple stovetop device produces a concentrated and rich coffee, comparable to a lungo in strength.

An espresso machine is much larger and more expensive than a moka pot. It wasn’t until relatively recently that these devices became popular among home users. The moka pot and, especially the classic Bialetti Express, is seen as a proper domestic coffee maker.

Some famous Italian coffee bars for your holiday itinerary:

  1. Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè – Piazza Sant’Eustachio 82, Rome. An iconic bar dating back to 1938, known for its special roasting method.
  2. Caffè Florian – Piazza San Marco, Venice. Opened in 1720, it is Italy’s oldest café.
  3. Caffè Gilli – Via Roma, 1r, Florence. A historical café since 1733 offering traditional Tuscan pastries along with coffee.
  4. Caffè Greco – Via dei Condotti 86, Rome. Opened in 1760, this historic café has served notable figures like Casanova and Goethe.
  5. Bar Luce – Largo Isarco 2, Milan. Designed by filmmaker Wes Anderson, this bar maintains a retro atmosphere and offers classic Italian coffee.
lavazza three blends
Lavazza is one of the most famous Italian coffee brands

Ordering Coffee in Italy: Key Phrases and Tips

Navigating Italy’s rich coffee culture can be a thrilling experience for any coffee enthusiast. To make your coffee-ordering journey in Italy smooth and enjoyable, here are some essential phrases and tips to remember.

Essential Italian Coffee Phrases

  1. “Vorrei un caffè, per favore” – A coffee, please. Remember that “un caffè” typically refers to a shot of espresso in Italy.
  2. “Un cappuccino, per favore” – A cappuccino, please. Italians typically consume cappuccinos in the morning and rarely after lunch.
  3. “Potrei avere un bicchiere d’acqua, per favore?” – May I have a glass of water, please? Having a glass of water with your espresso in Italy is common.

Top Tips for Ordering Coffee in Italy

  • Milk only in the morning: Italians generally drink milky coffees like cappuccinos, caffè latte, or latte macchiatos in the morning and rarely after 11 am. It’s just a part of the culture. Italians believe that milk interferes with digestion and should be limited.
  • No supersize: Venti and Grande are not a thing in Italian coffee bars. Instead they are Starbucks inventions. In Italy, you generally only have one size, and it’s a lot smaller than in the US.
  • Standing vs sitting: Many Italian coffee bars charge more if you sit down rather than stand at the bar. The standing tradition stems from the concept of coffee as a quick pick-me-up and social opportunity.
  • Pay first: In many cafés in bigger cities, you’re supposed to order and pay first at a cash register, and then order your drink at the counter.
  • Tipping: Unlike in some other countries, tipping in Italy isn’t obligatory. If satisfied with the service, rounding up to the nearest euro or leaving some small change is generally sufficient.

Read More: Italian Coffee Culture and History Explained

Popular Italian Coffee Brands


Arguably the most recognizable Italian coffee brand, Lavazza is known for its range of blends and roasts catering to various tastes. Established in 1895, this Turin-based company has become synonymous with high-quality coffee and continues to innovate within the industry.


Founded in 1933 by Ferenc AKA Francesco Illy, this Trieste-based company has built a reputation for its distinctive espresso blend and innovative packaging. With a focus on sustainability, Illy Coffee is also a pioneer in direct trade, ensuring that coffee farmers receive fair prices for their beans.

Segafredo Zanetti

Established in 1973, Segafredo Zanetti is a Bologna-based coffee roaster known for its rich, full-bodied espresso blends. Their products are a staple in many Italian coffee bars and have gained popularity worldwide.

Where Is Italian Coffee Grown?

Italian coffee is not grown in Italy but sourced from various coffee-producing countries worldwide. Italian coffee companies typically source their beans from regions such as:

  • South and Central America
  • Africa
  • Asia

These beans are imported and blended to create their signature roasts.

Is Italian Coffee Dark Roast?

Italian coffee is often associated with dark roasts, but this is not always the case. While many traditional Italian espresso blends feature a darker roast profile, there is a growing trend towards lighter roasts, particularly among specialty coffee roasters. These lighter roasts showcase the unique characteristics and flavors of the beans, similar to how a sommelier approaches wine.

Also, if you read my review of Lavazza coffee beans, you’ll know this brand is not very dark compared to its American counterparts, such as Starbucks.

Is Italian Coffee Stronger?

The strength of the coffee is subjective and depends on factors such as:

  • Brewing method
  • Coffee-to-water ratio
  • Personal taste preferences

Italian coffee, particularly espresso, is often perceived as stronger due to its concentrated nature and bold flavors. However, it’s essential to note that strength and caffeine content are not synonymous – a strong-tasting coffee may not necessarily have higher caffeine levels than a weaker-tasting pour-over—quite the contrary.

Do Italians Put Sugar in Their Coffee?

Sugar in coffee is a matter of personal preference, and Italians are no exception Sugar packets or cubes are typically provided on the side when you order coffee in Italian cafes, allowing you to sweeten your coffee to your liking. In the case of beverages like the caffe shakerato, sugar or simple syrup is added during preparation to offset the espresso’s bitterness.


Italian coffee is a diverse and ever-evolving landscape with a rich history and various brands catering to different preferences. While Italian coffee is often associated with dark roasts and intense flavors, there is a growing appreciation for lighter roasts and sustainable practices within the industry.

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Asser Christensen

Hello, and welcome! I'm the editor & founder of this site.
I have been a coffee geek since I started home roasting more than a decade ago. Since then, coffee has taken me on countless adventures: From ancient coffee ceremonies in Ethiopia to the volcanos of Sumatra.
My background is in journalism, and today I'm also a licensed Q Grader under the Coffee Quality Institute.