A crash course on Italian coffee culture

It’s one thing moving to a new city, it’s a completely different thing moving to a new country. And if you’re going to be a stranger in a new place, you at least want to do it with a good cup of coffee in your hand, right?

The coffee culture in Italy is so different from that of South Africa and before I knew it I was completely in love with it. Good coffee is the norm in Italy and it’s accessible around every corner – you don’t have to go on some scavenger hunt. You can go into the dodgiest or the classiest-looking bar and you’ll find a cup of Joe that will make your toes curl.

Having said that, I thought I’d use a bit of my own experience with the local coffee culture in Italy to fill you in on some dos and don’ts. It might make your initial attempt at ordering a coffee a bit smoother and it could potentially help you to avoid unnecessary embarrassment ;)


  1. If you ask for ‘a coffee’ (“un caffé”), you won’t get a tall filter coffee, you’ll get an espresso.
  2. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, the majority of Italians enjoy their coffee (and by “coffee”, I now mean espresso) on the go. And by that, I don’t mean in a take-away cup. I mean: walk into a bar, take a sip, and then throw the rest down your throat like a shot of tequila. Many locals will stop at more than one bar for a coffee on their way to work – depending how far they have to walk I suppose. Therefore, if you’re planning to catch up with a friend, rather don’t suggest that you guys “go for a coffee” – it will be an extremely quick catch-up session.
  3. A cappuccino is a morning drink, and Italians rarely have one after 10am. Sure you can ask for one if you feel like it at 3pm… but be prepared for a bit of a strange stare from the person behind the bar.
  4. Since tipping isn’t very common in Italy, at most places you’ll pay at least 1euro more for a coffee if you sit down; compared to having it at the bar.
  5. I’ve seen many Italians add sugar to their coffee. So it’s a common misconception that they don’t and that you’ll RUIN your coffee if you do. It all depends on personal preference.
  6. A coffee after dinner – which is usually at, or after 9pm – is quite normal as it serves as a digestive.
  7. If you ask for a latte, you’ll get a glass of milk. Literally. Be sure to ask for a latte macchiato instead.


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