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How to Order Coffee in an Italian Bar; Basic Italian Phrases
An Italian Bar
Ordering and Paying at the Cash Register of the Italian Bar
Tips on Ordering coffee in an Italian Bar
Ordering coffee in an Italian bar if you aren't Italian, or you haven’t ever been to an Italian bar before, takes confidence and a little preparation. It feels so un-cool to walk in and not know how to behave or how to ask for a coffee! There’s no social establishment anywhere else in the world that’s got the art of making and serving caffe quite like it, nowhere that could ever be so smooth-Italian at its heart. Nowhere so quirky about how and when you pay for your order, what the moves are at the counter, at the cash register, with your drink or food in hand.
Here are some essential tips on ordering your coffee in the bar so you can enjoy being a part of it!
- How to walk into a bar feeling confident
- Order coffee, (or capuccino or a latte or even ‘un cornetto’)
- How to pay for your order
- Use the right phrases
- How to drink coffee in an Italian bar
Inside An Italian Bar
The Oldest Bar in Italy - Florians
Coffee was sold commercially in Venice from 1683 when coffee houses sprung up round the city.
The Oldest bar was 'Il Cafe Florian', which still stands regally in Piazza San Marco in Venice. It opened on 29 December 1720 by Florian Francescone, originally called "Alla Venezia Trionfale" ("To Trimphant Venice") - but it became called 'Florians' by all its patrons.
Goethe and Casanova drank their coffee in the fine halls regularly. Lord Byron, Marcel Proust and Charles Dickens visited often too.
'Florians' now has international branches in Harrods London, in the Marina Mall in Abu Dhabi and in the Gate Village of Dubai's International Financial Centre.
Caffe with Cream and Chocolate
Gaggia Espresso Coffee Making Machine
Giovanni Achille Gaggia opened his coffee bar in 1946 after inventing the commercial piston express machine. His bar offered the first espressos, which showed what happened when water was forced through finely ground coffee to make a 'crema' on the top.
Gaggia still manufactures all its Espresso making machines in its plant in Milan.
Paying at the Cash Register
Italian Breakfast Capuccino con Cornetto
How to Order Coffee
It's often possible to sit at a table outside a bar and enjoy the scenes, have the waiter or waitress come and take your order and do away with the hassle of dealing with the language, the cash register and understanding the menu. English is often understood enough to get you by and as long as you don't mind paying the extra money for the luxury and the leisurely pace of a table with a view outside, you have no problems at all. It does cost a lot more depending on which bar you have chosen. At the famous Rosati Bar in Piazza del Poppolo in Rome for example, it will set you back € 20 for two capuccini and two cornetti (breakfast rolls) plus tip. But it is beautiful and the Cipro colored morning sun over ancient Rome is priceless.
If you prefer to brace yourself and take-on 'having a coffee' the way Italians have their coffee with or without a bite to eat, then this is the way to do it:
- Have a good idea what it is you want to order before entering. Are you thirsty for a glass of water? Do you long for a hot capuccino, would you like to have a sweet snack with it, or do you want a sandwich? (I'll translate the words further down). This is important since you will only have the chance for a quick, interrupted glance at the foods in the glass counter at the bar (because others are usually standing there having their coffee or drink). Besides, it feels best if you act as though you know what you are doing, as everyone else in there does.
- You and your partner really want a coffee for example with a sweet bun, a sandwich and a glass of water. You go to the cash register near the bar and you order exactly what you want, pointing to the sandwich if necessary. You pleasantly specify how you like your coffee (with or without cacao, de-caffeinated etc.) just as you would to a colleague at work; familiar but respectful.
- The barman's going a mile a minute, he rings your order up on the cash machine while he tells the other barman (who has an ear to the cash guy) to make the coffees up while he gives you your receipt. (You can see your total on the cash register).
- You have your money ready . It's uncool to dither and get complicated. It's a straightforward transaction. You pay. He gives you your change.
- You move away because there are people behind you already with their requests! It isn't a scrum. It's just a dance everyone plays in the bar and the dance has just begun. Even if there aren't people behind you, it's a quick transaction because everyone wants to move-on to making the coffee.
- You are now at the counter where the barman is either making your coffees (it takes him less than one minute to make the perfect capuccino). The bill for two coffees and two breakfast rolls (cornetti) is approximately €5, including tip.
- You place your receipt with a ¢20-50 coin tip on the counter nonchalantly. (It's all under control on the other side).
- The barman asks you which sandwich you'd like, as he takes your receipt (simultaneously plopping the tip in a glass). There's a suggestion of something like 'thanks' but it's more an "ok, lets get this straight and nice". (He is serving others at the same time anyway. It isn't multitasking, it's much more than that - it's an art form in motion). They've got you sorted! It's like driving, you look miles ahead, but you see what's in front of you. You point, or you tell him and you add a quick 'per favore' (please).
- He gives you your sandwich. It's a beautiful gesture with a paper napkin around it and a nice hand-giving movement that says 'enjoy it'. Italians describe emotion, professionalism, camaraderie, the shared-game-of-life with their hands, with you. It isn't sentimental; It's as though their hands are directly connected to their minds.
- Now either you stand and enjoy the sandwich, (and the capuccino's etc) blocking everyone else, or you get into the dance and move a little to the side, to be a part of the jostle. You aren't being subservient, you're establishing your right to the society and your sandwich. But you stay close to your capuccinos, which you can move further down the counter.
- You won't stay long. You kind of knock it all back. People come and go. There's banter and the show's a quick one. It doesn't involve any lingering at all. That's the Starbucks way. You can go back to the bar several times a day if you like, any time of the day.
- If there has been any mistake, don't worry, just don't make a fuss. Simply say "Scusa,....ma" and gesture. They get it! It's taken care of.
- As you toss your paper napkin in the trash bin you say a "Grazie" to no one and everyone" - and you leave. The barman nine- times- out- of- ten has heard you and is saying "Arrivederci".
Ways of Serving Coffee
Where Coffee is in the Cup
Mixed with Frothed Milk
Mixed with Hot Water
Espresso is on:
Caffe Espresso (Caffe) and Capuccino
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Basic Italian Phrases
You really won't need many phrases; sign language when you are really stuck works wonders! Italians understand and speak a a little English these days.
But to avoid feeling gawky these are the essential sentences to help you fit in -
- for being courteous,
- for ordering
- the names of the items you might want to order
There are so many ways to serve coffee; in a glass cup, with chocolate, without, in a glass of milk, with a shot of grappa and many many more. Why not try them all and make your mind up? The bar you visit might have a special one they'd like to make up for you. Have a look around and if there's someone drinking something you'd like to try, you can always point to it (and find out later what it is).
Most coffees served in any bar in Italy are either caffé (which is an espresso) or capuccino. Personally you can't beat them!
Basic Italian phrases
BWOHn GHORn Oh
BWOHn AH SEHra
BWon AH NHOT Ei
GRR Ah Z Ieh
Two coffees please
Due caffe per favore
DWeh CAFF Eh Per FAv Or Rey
Per FAv Or Rey
A glass of cold/warm milk
Un bicchiere di latte freddo/caldo
Wn BEEk ieh Rey di LahtE FreIDoh/Cal do
Succo di Frutta
WN Swook Oh dee Frwt Tah
Ack Wa MinerAL Ley
A sweet bun
Cornetto (cornetti pl.)
Wn CornEt Tow
Un tramezzino ( tramezzini pl.)
Wn Tram ETz EEno
Where's the bathroom please?
Dov'e il bagno per favore?
Dowv Eh EEl BaNYo Per FAv Or Rey?
The bill please?
I conto per favore
IL CohNT OW Per FAv Or Rey.
Tat tcZ ee na
Bik YEa rae
Dzw KhE row
Sensa Dzw KhE row
Cornetti at the Bar!
© 2012 Penelope Hart