How To Drink Coffee Like An Italian

From the timing of your cappuccino to the proper way to savor an espresso, here are the top 5 basic facts you need to know.

A man in a brown jacket sips from an espresso coffee while looking past the camera. He is sitting outside, with a blurry crowd in the background.
A man sips his espresso. Photo: Gabriella Clare Marino on Unsplash.

Coffee in Italy is an art form that borders on religion. We take our coffee seriously, and as such there are some unwritten rules that are second nature to many Italians, but might not be so obvious to foreigners. You don’t need to invest in a Moka Express pot (although they are undeniably charming), but let’s get the top five basic facts.

1. No cappuccino after 11 am or with meals

Italians have a strong aversion to consuming cappuccino after a certain hour, and definitely not with meals. The reasoning behind this is that milk-based drinks, like cappuccino, are considered too heavy for later in the day and can interfere with digestion. Breakfast is the acceptable time for this frothy delight. So, if you’re in Italy and the clock strikes 11 am, it’s time to switch to something a bit more traditional…

2. Milky drinks are too heavy for the afternoon

Building on the first rule, the afternoon is the domain of espresso. Italians believe that milky drinks, with their creamy richness, are best enjoyed in the morning. As the day progresses, the palate craves the bold, strong flavors of a well-pulled espresso. It’s not just about the caffeine pick-me-up; it’s about savoring the essence of coffee without the dilution of milk.

3. Drinking al banco (at the counter)

One of the quintessential Italian coffee experiences is drinking your espresso al banco, which means standing at the counter. This is not just a matter of convenience, it’s a cultural tradition. Standing allows you to quickly down your shot, which makes it both practical and efficient. It’s a momentary pause in your day, a ritual that doesn’t require lingering. So, if you want to truly embrace the Italian coffee culture, skip the table and join the locals at the counter.

4. Quality over quantity

Italians take their espresso seriously, and there’s a proper way to savor it. First, take a moment to appreciate the rich and complex aroma. Then, take a small sip, to get a proper taste of the flavors. It’s about quality over quantity. Don’t gulp it down; espresso is meant to be enjoyed slowly. Also, the cup must be hot and served with a glass of mineral water.

5. Respect the local variations

Italy is not a monolith when it comes to coffee, and each region has its own enjoyable variations and specialties. For example, in the south, you might encounter the caffè in ghiaccio (coffee on ice); while in the north, the caffè corretto (coffee ‘corrected’ with a splash of liquor, typically grappa) is a popular choice. Embrace the local variations and don’t be afraid to try something new.