Why in Italy ‘let’s have a coffee’ (‘prendiamo un caffè’) is never simply ‘let’s have a coffee’

I’m posting here the transcript of the first part of my freshly published podcast on How To Be Italian. Please help me share my new project on Patreon. Grazie mille!

A few weeks ago I was invited to a bio-coffee shop in Pesaro to have a coffee (per prendere un caffè) with three good friends of mine. When the waitress came to our table we ordered: un espresso, un latte macchiato, un cappuccino di soia deca e un montebianco i.e. an expresso coffee, a milk with coffee (literally a ‘stained milk’, assuming that the stain into the milk is that of an expresso), a decaf soy cappuccino and a montebianco (literally ‘a white mount’ referring to Italy’s highest mount ‘Monte Bianco’ bordering with France). What is a montebianco? Well, it is an expresso coffee with a white milk foam on top. Usually on the milk foam the bartender draws a little flower or a heart – a decoration – with liquid chocolate or caramel unless, of course, he or she got up on the wrong side of the bed. If that be the case you just get the milk foam on top, sometimes not even quite foamy.

An expresso coffee (in Italy simply ‘un caffè’)

As you see, four Italians gathering at the bar for a coffee rarely end up having simply a coffee. Which takes us to our first question: what do Italians have at the bar when ordering ‘un caffè’ or coffee-related beverages? Actually, I just realized that the mother of all questions about Italians having coffee at the bar should actually be: how many kinds of coffee can you possibly order at the bar in Italy?

Ok, I’ll just go random: corto or basso or ristretto, lungo, decaffeinato, doppio, montebianco, americano, macchiato freddo, macchiato caldo, corretto, al vetro, con lo zabaione. These are the basics. Then we have: cappuccino – in all its variations – il caffè d’orzo, il caffè al ginseng, il mokaccino, il montebianco, il caffè Borghetti. We Italians get so creative when ordering a coffee that the list risks to be longer than you can possibly stand.

Un latte macchiato

Anyway, before getting into the most popular kinds of coffee or coffee-related beverages Italians drink at the bar, let’s just go through 4 basic assumptions:

Assumption n.1: the first coffee plant ever appearing on earth grew on the Italian soil. Despite common sense, and authoritative sources, may lead naïve people to believe that the genus Coffea is native to tropical Africa and Madagascar, the Comoros, Mauritius and Réunion in the Indian Ocean, an Italian will always believe deep inside that coffee grows spontaneously in Italy, and only in Italy, since the Lower Paleolithic.

Assumption n.2: we Italians invented coffee drinking. I’m quoting Wikipedia here: ‘the earliest credible evidence of coffee-drinking appears in the middle of the 15th century in the Sufi  shrines of Yemen.’ Well, the first inborn reaction of an Italian to this statement would be: ‘tutte cavolate’ (please go back to my free podcast on ‘il cavolo’ to get that!) or ‘state scherzando, vero’? (‘you are kidding, right?’). Italians invented coffee drinking, otherwise how could it be that (see assumption n.3): ‘Italians are the only ones in the world who know how to make a good coffee???’

Assumption n.3: Italians are the only ones in the world who know how to make a good coffee. This is such a self-evident truth that it does not need any further explanation (Italians obviously do not know that this self-evident truth is such only within the Italian borders; we believe in this truth as we believe that we invented spaghetti – if you tell an Italian that spaghetti were invented by the Chinese you risk lynching… and don’t tell me I didn’t warn you!)

Assumption n.4: ‘un caffè in Italia è sempre un espresso’. A coffee in Italy is always an expresso. Whenever you order a coffee in Italy, it will always be an expresso. Nobody calls ‘expresso’ or ‘espresso’ a coffee. Doubting assumption n.4 would be like doubting that a rose is a rose.

If you wish to hear the full podcast of Why in Italy ‘let’s have a coffee’ (‘prendiamo un caffè’) is never simply ‘let’s have a coffee’ follow me on How To Be Italian on Patreon


  1. OK Simona– I’m learning a lot here! It reminds me of “tomando cafe” with friends in Spain. We’d go to one of the 3 bakeries on our little plaza and pick up a tray of pastries. then cross over to one of the bars and sit forever with our coffee and pastries. But it does sound like Italians have perfected coffee and have a whole lot more ways to serve it! take care friend. xox

  2. Ciao Rhonda. I love your recollections of your ‘Spanish days’. Have you ever thought of a special section in your blog telling about your Spanish life experiences? I’d love that! Hugs (un abbraccio)

  3. […] decided to break up our routine. After taking our daughter to school – and after our second espresso – instead of heading to our desks and turn our computers on we decided to break up our routine […]

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