Italian Coffee Drinking Etiquette: 5 Things You Need To Know

italian coffee drinking etiquette

If you’re going to Italy for the first time and wondering how you’re supposed to drink coffee like a true Italian, be prepared before your trip! Learn a few rules on how to drink coffee in Italy.

According to Italian coffee drinking etiquette, should water be drunk before or after espresso? Should Espresso be sweetened? What type of glass is needed, glass or ceramic? Here are the answers!

Italian Coffee Drinking Etiquette

Coffee is one of the most popular things in Italy: most of us just love it, and some are even addicted!

You can prepare it at home and choose the aroma intensity by adding much or little grounded coffee in your Moka (Italian coffee maker). Or else, you can go to a café and enjoy a moment of peace with an Espresso.

—> Not only Espresso! Find out other types of coffee in Italy:

13 Types of Coffee in Italy

1. How do Italians Drink Coffee?

When you get an Espresso in Italy, don’t expect it to be already sweetened. Whether you want to have it straight, with milk or sugar, it’s up to you!

Do Italians put sugar in their coffee?

Experts say that the best way to taste coffee is straight. No sugar, no milk. Nothing.

The first time you have unsweetened coffee, it may be a bit harsh for your tastebuds, but in time you’ll get used to this bitter taste – it normally takes about two weeks – and will finally be able to fully enjoy it.

Also, having it straight allows you to determine whether that is good quality coffee.

In fact, once you get used to straight Espresso, if after a couple of sips you twist your nose, chances are that coffee is poor quality.

However, you must know that not all Italians put this rule into practice. Some don’t really stand the bitterness and prefer to have it slightly sweetened.

How Do Italians Drink Coffee?

How do Italians sweeten coffee?

We have different options.

Either sugar, that can be white or brown, or milk. There isn’t much of a difference in taste between white and brown sugar, so it’s up to you to decide. Most coffee shops (in Italy we call thembar) have both. Also, if you are on a diet you can pick a light sweetener bag on the table.

Just remember, no matter the type of sugar you choose, always put one tablespoon max. If you put more than one, you’ll end up spoiling the taste of coffee.

Some Italians don’t like the idea of sweetening coffee with sugar, so they go for milk instead. In this case we’re talking about “caffé macchiato” (pron “kaf’fé mak.’”) which is an Espresso with just a bit of milk foam in it.

You don’t have to ask for milk since macchiato always comes with it. You might be asked if you prefer to have it “macchiato caldo o freddo?”, meaning “would you like your milk hot or cold?”. In fact, in case you want it hot, milk will be already poured in the coffee (with a little foam), otherwise, in case you prefer cold milk, it will come in a really cute and tiny milk jar.

2. How to Stir Coffee

According to Italian coffee drinking rules, you should always stir Espresso, even though it’s not sweetened.

The reason why? When you stir coffee all aromas are evenly distributed in the fluid. 

Mind you, you need to stir very gently, with delicate movements from top to bottom.

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3. Cappuccino and Espresso: Morning, Afternoon or Evening?

Outside of Italy you can have either Cappuccino or Espresso at any time of the day. But in Italy? Let’s start from the morning.

3.1 What coffee do Italians drink in the morning?

The morning is the perfect time of the day to have Espresso or Cappuccino for breakfast.

Some people (addicts) even have a cup of Espresso during their break at work at 10 or 10.30 at a bar (if you’re lucky enough) or at the coffee machines in the office. In Italy this is also a habit to socialize and enjoy a chat, just to get off work for a few minutes.

3.2 What coffee do Italians drink in the afternoon?

After lunch Italians sip another nice Espresso, especially if they just had heavy food like pasta or any other carbos: you want to go through the afternoon awake, not sleeping on your computer desk in the office.

However, remember that NO Cappuccino is allowed right after lunch. It’s a sin. No Italians do that.

What coffee do Italians drink in the afternoon?

In the afternoon you may find people having Cappuccino at 4 or 5 pm, if they meet with friends in a coffee shop. Espresso is not recommended after 2 pm as it may keep you awake all night long, so just be careful with that.

3.3 What coffee do Italians drink in the evening?

As for evenings, nobody would take Cappuccino (only Germans do that and we tease them), but on some occasions you can have Espresso.

When? After really huge meals, like Christmas and wedding banquets, Espresso will help you digest anything you gulped down. No worries about your night: you will be sleeping like a baby as the “awakening” effects of coffee will be dampened by all the food.

4. Water Before or After Espresso?

According to Italian coffee drinking etiquette, a small glass of water should be served along with Espresso. 

However, most tourists never know how to drink it with coffee. Is it before or after? Let’s clarify this point.

Water before or after espresso?

Italian coffee drinking rules clearly state that you should ALWAYS be served water with your coffee, either sparkling or still (there are no specific rules about it). If that doesn’t happen, change coffee shop. It’s not the best quality you can get.

Then, rigorously before drinking your coffee, drink the water: this way any flavors you have in your mouth (especially if you’ve eaten something before) will be washed away and you’ll be able to fully taste the coffee aroma.

What if you see someone drinking water after coffee? In that case, either they don’t know proper Italian coffee drinking rules or the coffee was so disgusting that they wanted to wash its taste right away. 

So be aware that if they see you having water after coffee, they may get offended!

5. What Cup is Used for Espresso?

The best cup for espresso is a demitasse cup (in Italian “tazzina”) that has the following features:

  • size: this cup must hold between 60 ml and 90 ml (2 to 3 ounces).
  • material: ceramic cups certainly keep coffee warm longer than glass cups.
  • shape: the tazzina should have no angles, but only gentle curves both on the bottom and on the top, which must be round.
  • color: the inside must be white and not decorated so as to enjoy espresso even visually. In fact, you can perceive the natural coffee color and its nuances, especially in the thin foam.
What cup is used for espresso?

About the cup material:

Traditionally coffee has always been served in ceramic cups. No exceptions. However, nowadays glass cups have become more and more popular as they’re probably fancier.

There is not really a rule for this, nonetheless there are pros and cons for both materials.

Glass cups allow you to enjoy coffee from an aesthetical point of view, as you can see its dark color, dense texture and thin hazel foam on top through the glass.

Its shape allows the foam to be preserved while drinking the coffee, which is harder in ceramic cups.

As for the taste, nothing really changes. If you like it better in a glass cup, go for it!

Now that you know the basics you won’t have any problems ordering your first Espresso in Italy! Enjoy your coffee!

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