Be like a local in Italy – some coffee do’s and don’ts

cappuccinoWant to be a local? Then there are some definite do’ s and don’ts to learn about Italian coffee etiquette. Melbournites are easily identifiable when they front the bar and order a latteand look surprised to see a long glass of hot milk placed before them. Worse still they think the barman has got it wrong… when he thinks they must be sick!? Hahaha!

But they are not the only foreigners who get caught out, so broaden your request to caffelatte and you will get what you are after.

Cappuccino’s can be another struggle; served with little froth and often with no cacao  which the barman seems to have hidden as if it’s as precious as gold. Don’t be afraid to ask for it though. Locals only drink them for breakfast and never ask for one after 12 noon. From then on it’s espresso – those black, miniscule, throw down, pick me up slugs that can be enhanced with just a slurp of milk (hot or cold) caffe macchiato, spiked with liquor (grappa, Sambuca, brandy) as a caffe corretto, or even more intense and minute as a caffe ristretto. Following pasta or pizza with a cappuccino is a definite no no!

Froth Leunig

Michael Leunig kindly gave permission to publish his cartoon

If you’re dreaming of a super size frothy cappuccino Leunig style, you’ll have to wait till you get home.

And there’s more to watch out for – coffees come lukewarm! Cafés cater to the morning tea-time rush when cappuccinos and caffe lattes slip quickly down as Italians stand at the counter and then return to their shops, bank, or post office job to serve you. Besides there is nothing worse than burnt out beans. But then you can do the same and pay half the cost, as stand up coffees cost less (in fact the price is regulated and displayed) even if you are in the most plush café in San Marco’s square in Venice. Try it and see. Otherwise learn to ask for a “cappuccino caldo if you want to sit over it and savour the view in the best seat in the square for an hour or two. And be warned, skinny milk cappuccinos are non-existent and soya milk ones are rare.

Cappuccino takeaway

Michael Leunig kindly gave permission to publish his cartoon

Don’t even think of asking for a takeaway either, as we don’t do Starbucks style here, and eating and drinking on the street is not done much unless it’s a gelati. Besides it saves on rubbish, which is a major problem in Italy and there are no shortages of cafés.

Oh my, is this Italian coffee adventure turning into a total disappointment?

A caffe Americano could be what you’re after, even if you’re not American, which is an espresso with hot water served in a big cup, that can turn into a classic flat white if you find the milk jug.

Capuccino French style

I hadn’t realised how addicted I was to a good Italian cappuccino till I went on holidays in Provence, France and the few cappuccinos I ordered came with disgusting coffee and canned spray cream! Ugghhh!

In the end I gave up asking and on the drive back home stopped at the first Italian café for a well earned cappuccino.

Italian coffee

Real Italian coffee with my sister-in-law




Buon cappuccino!




And for those of you who don’t know Leunig’s work, check him out here. He’s a long standing  favourite of mine.




2 thoughts on “Be like a local in Italy – some coffee do’s and don’ts

  1. Bravo Sue. Love the piece about Latte etc. I know how annoying it is for your home-grown barista to be asked for a latte. Even I find it annoying to hear someone ordering a “latte” in the self-proclaimed coffee capitol of the world!
    Your friend Leunig is so generous. I don’t know him personally but my friend Maggie May, who sadly passed away a few year ago, was a friend of his. I wrote to the Age the other day a propos a Leunig cartoon. They didn’t think it was worth publishing. Bastards!

    • Thanks Alex, And I only wrote the half of what can go wrong ordering coffees here! I was delighted when Leunig let me use his cartoons as so much of what he does doesn’t really need (my) words.

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