Needless To Say, Coffee Bar Rules Are Different In Italy

Anyone making the journey to Italy should look forward to experiencing the country's cafés, particularly for the espresso, which originated in Venice, Italy. For one, they don't even go by the name of cafés — and instead are called bars. But before you plan on saddling up to a barstool, there are some differences between Italian and American coffee bar rules. And knowing them is key to enjoying your experience and embracing Italy's coffee culture. 

Of course, you want to blend in as much as possible while spending time abroad but keep in mind that, as a tourist, it's okay to ask questions and not know everything while you try new experiences. You won't be a local after visiting Rome for only a few days. These tips and cultural notes are small gestures; doing them is courteous and makes trying a new experience less stressful. That being said, don't panic if you make a goof at the bar. While you look for your morning or afternoon coffee, know that Italian coffee bars differ from American in their seating (or lack thereof) arrangements, as well as what drinks are available and when. Just as some Italian-American foods aren't served in Italy, the same goes for coffee shops. 

Don't expect to dine in at Italian coffee bars

Strolling through the piazza with main character energy is expected when you're touring Italy and necessitates ordering coffee. But the dream of lingering at a table with an espresso in hand is exactly that. Bars in Italy have limited table seating and may even charge patrons extra to dine in instead of slinging back their coffee and leaving — especially in tourist spots. But what about my extra large latte, you ask? That's not a thing in Italy, either. Drinks are served in ceramic cups or glasses on saucers unless you ask for a to-go order, which also won't come in extended sizes. 

As for what drinks are available, expect a more limited menu and smaller drinks than you're used to enjoying. And for lattes in particular, specify that you'd like a café latte, never just a latte, or you may be given a glass of milk. Additionally, milk-based drinks like the latte or cappuccino are typically only ordered in the morning as a part of breakfast. Avoid ordering them in the afternoon if you want to do as the locals do. Instead, opt for a shot of espresso or a macchiato. But know that Italian macchiatos are just espresso shots with a dollop of steamed and frothed milk, not the latte-adjacent Starbucks offering. If your usual order is a drip coffee, the closest thing is an Americano, which is espresso diluted with a few ounces of water.