Coffee Bars In Italy Are A Unique Experience You Should Try

Coffee bars in Italy are different than what you have experienced in the US as Italian bars are a great place for a coffee, snacks, breakfast or cocktails.

coffee bars in italy - Older Machinery

The Beautiful Older Machinery

What Are Coffee Bars In Italy Like?

Italian bars are a gathering place, a center of social life for the neighborhood and they are open to people of all ages. While this might not be obvious if you are in a more touristy area, if you are in the neighborhoods of the residents, you can hang out and do a bit of people-watching. You would see the same group of people every morning having their espresso, chit-chatting with their friends about the game last night and taking a little more time getting going in the morning.

Bialetti Moka – Silver

The Moka Express is the original stovetop espresso maker and is the Italian way of preparing a delicious coffee that dates back to 1933.

The opposite of that is at the counter (al banco). This is the place to grab a quick espresso, throw back a cornetto and be on your way. Typically the food and drinks are less expensive at the counter than when you are sitting at the table, so keep that in mind when you’re trying to decide if you need a quick pick-me-up (tiramisu) or need to sit down and relax.

One other part that is important to be aware of is when you need to pay. If you are planning to stand at the counter it is common, especially in less tourist-filled areas, to pay first at the cash register (la cassa) and then present your receipt at the bar for your food or drink. If you are sitting at a table, you will get served by the wait staff, so this isn’t as important.

What Is Served At An Italian Coffee Bar?

Italian bars are usually aligned with a single coffee roaster (torrefazione) and you will notice this on their cups (tazze), signs and umbrellas outside. There is no reason to avoid a bar if you don’t recognize their brand of coffee because there are so many of them, but if you have a favorite, you can keep an eye out for it. Ours is Kimbo and there is a bar right near our apartment that serves it!

When ordering a coffee there is a long list of possibilities. You are probably familiar with the common espresso, cappuccino, and latte, but there are many others. You should be aware of them so you can be confident enough to try something new, but be careful. Asking for a latte will get you a glass of milk (ask for a caffè latte).

coffee bars in italy - Caffè Greco

Classic Caffè Greco in Rome

Skipping espresso and cappuccino, here are some other drinks to consider:

  • Doppio – If you are having a little trouble getting going in the morning, a more common situation for me every day, you can ask for a caffè doppio which is basically a double shot.
  • Macchiato – I’ve had really bad versions of a caffè macchiato in the US because they overload it with milk. Macchiato means stained or marked. It has a small drop of milk foam on top of an espresso and that’s it.
  • Americano – Did you ever wonder how you can get an American style coffee in Italy even though there are no drip coffee makers? Well, you make an espresso and add hot water. In this case though, be clear that you want a caffè americano because there is a cocktail of the same name, which is delicious, but possibly not the best choice at 9:00 in the morning.
  • Corretto – A caffè corretto, which translates to corrected coffee is an espresso with a shot of alcohol, like grappa. A couple years back this came to my rescue when I was trying grappa for the first time and hating it. I didn’t want to waste it, so I had it added to an espresso and only then was I able to choke it down. 
  • Shakerato – This is my goal for the summer of 2022. You can probably guess from the Italianized English word that it involves shaking. It’s basically an iced coffee.

Kimbo Espresso Napoletano Coffee

This amazing coffee from Naples is my favorite to enjoy every morning at home. Try it with a Moka and you will love it!

There are many other types of espresso drinks that you can order in Italy, but I wanted to keep the list tight to help build your confidence to venture outside of your comfort zone. Also, not every bar in Italy knows how or wants to make some of the more exotic drinks. Ease into it. One of my missions this summer is to have a Shakerato but you don’t see them available in every bar so if it happens, it happens (quel che sarà, sarà).

Food At An Italian Bar

coffee bars in italy - Sweets and Savories

Sweets and Savories at the Bar

An Italian bar isn’t trying to be a restaurant, so the food offerings can be limited. For breakfast you should be able to get the standards like a cornetto, pane al cioccolato or a saccottino al cioccolato. If you come by during lunch, don’t expect a full kitchen but rather some panini or a tramezzino that can be heated in a press. Our local has a Sicilian selection so we can get Arancine reheated in a microwave.

Cocktails At A Bar In Italy

It is the end of the workday, you’re hungry and you can’t imagine waiting until 8:00pm for dinner. What do you do? Perhaps you can decide to meet up with friends for a drink and a light snack (Aperitivo) at your local bar. These are great places to open your palate for dinner and also do a bit of people-watching. Much like the coffee options available, there are new cocktails created all the time, both in Italy and imported from abroad, so consider starting with the most popular. My favorites are:

  • Prosecco – A simple glass of this Italian sparkling wine is very refreshing.
  • Spritz – Have this mix of Prosecco and either Aperol or Campari, depending on your tastes.
  • Negroni – This classic cocktail is gin, Campari and red vermouth. Don’t be too concerned about the gin because you typically have only one.
  • Americano – If the gin in a Negroni is unappealing to you, try this less boozy version. It’s a mix of Campari, red vermouth and club soda.
coffee bars in italy - Beautiful Mirror

Beautiful Bar Mirror

A Bar In Italy Is A Great Experience

Coffee bars in Italy might not be what you are expecting, but it is an important part of Italian culture and should be experienced during your visit. If you still want a bar in the more American tradition, there are a number of Irish bars around Rome that might be what you are looking for, but you know the saying: When In Rome, Do As The Romans Do! For more information on Italian bars and culture, check out these interesting posts:

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