Caffé rules: Feel at home in the Italian coffee bar

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Coffe culture on Italian Untours

Italian coffee rules. We don’t need to tell you that. We’ve gotten much more sophisticated as a coffee-drinking people ourselves. Surely most of us know our cappuccino from our macchiato well before we set foot on a plane. (We may have even gotten a twenty ounce latte at the drive-thru coffee shop on the way to the airport!) But in Italy, there are some important differences to note. As with all rules, the Italians love to make exceptions. But here are some guidelines to aid in the quality of your Italian coffee bar experience.

Don’t order a latte. That is unless you really do want a tall glass of milk. Because latte means milk in Italian, and that’s exactly what you’ll get. A caffe latte is what you’ll need to tell the barista.

Don’t order a cappuccino after lunch. And do not order it after a meal! The Italians consider cappuccino a breakfast beverage, with the dairy being much too heavy for consumption later in the day or after a meal. This is part of a minor national preoccupation with digestion, which somehow exempts heavy ricotta-based desserts. The Italians are used to tourists thwarting this rule, so follow your bliss if you choose.

Decaffeinato. OK, so the Italians are not much for decaf. But if you must, order a decaffeinato or Hag (pronounced ahhhG). Or as a nice alternative, try an orzo, naturally caffeine free because it is brewed from roasted barley. You can get it long or short, and many Italians prefer this to decaf coffee, feeling it is more natural.

Pay the cashier first. This applies in busy coffee bars at airports and rail stations or in caffés in the larger cities. Normally you pay for your order first, and then follow the others to the bar, where you will show your receipt to the barista and repeat your order to him or her. Things are much more laid back in small towns or quieter little off-peak bars, where you can order right at the bar and pay afterwards. If unsure, hang back and let a local go before you.

Table service costs extra. There are two prices for each item in a coffee bar, the price paid to consume it standing at the bar, and the higher price to consume it sitting at a table. If you are in a caffé that is big enough to have wait service, please sit down and order at the table. Do not order at the bar and carry your beverage over to the table. Again, this is more laid back in small towns. If in doubt, tell them you are having your beverage a tavola when ordering, and they can charge accordingly. Or better yet, just drink it standing at the bar with the locals! A caffé (what we call espresso) may cool off by the time it is carried to the table anyway.

Have you ever strayed from these guidelines when ordering coffee in Italy?

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