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How to Order Coffee in an Italian Bar; Basic Italian Phrases

Updated on November 19, 2015
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Penelope is retired but teaches English in Rome. She is a published feature writer, playwright and poet. She loves local Italian customs.

An Italian Bar

Two barmen at my local bar Nina Cafe, Fonteblanda Tuscany.
Two barmen at my local bar Nina Cafe, Fonteblanda Tuscany. | Source

Ordering and Paying at the Cash Register of the Italian Bar

Ordering and paying at the cash register of the Italian Bar
Ordering and paying at the cash register of the Italian Bar | Source

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

Inside An Italian Bar.  At the Counter
Inside An Italian Bar. At the Counter | Source

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

Caffe with Cream and Chocolate
Caffe with Cream and Chocolate | Source

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

Paying at the Cash Register
Paying at the Cash Register | Source

Italian Breakfast Capuccino con Cornetto

Italian Breakfast Capuccino con Cornetto
Italian Breakfast Capuccino con Cornetto | Source
Cacao on your capuccino
Cacao on your capuccino | Source

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," 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:
latte machiato
long black
caffe latte
caffe americano

Caffe Espresso (Caffe) and Capuccino

Caffe Espresso (Caffe) and Capuccino
Caffe Espresso (Caffe) and Capuccino | Source

Are You Cool About Going to Italian Bars?

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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

Italian Pronunciation
Good morning
Buon giorno
Good evening
Buona sera
Good night
Buona notte
CiA oW
Thank you
GRR Ah Z Ieh
Two coffees please
Due caffe per favore
DWeh CAFF Eh Per FAv Or Rey
Per favore
Per FAv Or Rey
1 Capuccino
Un capuccino
Wn Capuccino
2 Capuccinos
Due Capuccini
DWeh Capucini
A glass of cold/warm milk
Un bicchiere di latte freddo/caldo
Wn BEEk ieh Rey di LahtE FreIDoh/Cal do
Fruit juice
Succo di Frutta
WN Swook Oh dee Frwt Tah
Mineral water
Acqua minerale
Ack Wa MinerAL Ley
A sweet bun
Cornetto (cornetti pl.)
Wn CornEt Tow
A sandwich
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 tcZa
small cup
Tat tcZ ee na
Bik YEa rae
Dzw KhE row
without sugar
Senza zucchero
Sensa Dzw KhE row

Basic Italian phrases at the bar.

Cornetti at the Bar!

Cornetti at the Bar!
Cornetti at the Bar! | Source

© 2012 Penelope Hart


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    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      6 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Nothing more exciting than a Cappuccino in an Italian bar! Burn giorno Melissa.

    • missolive profile image

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      6 years ago from Texas

      PERFECT! This is going to come in very handy! I am very grateful for the information you have put together. Your table, Basic Italian Phrases, is just what I need. I can't wait to order my own coffee in Italian. Pinned!

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      8 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Wishing you the most wonderful Italian holiday - it's impossible not to enjoy it all. Many thanks for your comment and vote!

    • freecampingaussie profile image


      8 years ago from Southern Spain

      Fascinating hub . We will be having quite a few coffees, wine in Italy soon - Venice - Rome etc !! Voting you up

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      8 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Sure your kids had a great time here and learned how to 'do it right' at the bar. Your turn next!

    • profile image 

      8 years ago

      This is timely since my kids have just been in Italy travelling in Europe and the UK - I've never been but I got a great sense of it from your hub GoodLady Thanks

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      8 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thanks for stopping in Guadalupe.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I would love to experience this "enjoyable anxiety".

      The ideal of the "coffee dance" appeals to my nature.

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thanks Graham. So you'll be having coffee at the bar in Italy soon will you? Enjoy.

    • old albion profile image

      Graham Lee 

      9 years ago from Lancashire. England.

      I really have made notes in my diary. Thank you for such an information packed and entertaining hub. Your photographs are spot on.

      Voted Up / Interesting.


    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      victoriabryan It's a wonderful memory, maybe you'll be back. Thanks for comment!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Hah! Great post. Very informative. One of my favorite memories of Italy was all of the small cafes. They do take their coffee seriously.

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Hi Susan. Let's hope you will visit. Thanks for your visit here, meanwhile.

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      9 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I would love to visit Italy and experience the Italian coffee bar. Fantastic hub packed full of great information. Looks like fun to me :)

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Thanks Kat Eliza Devi tornare allora!

    • Kat Eliza profile image

      Kat Eliza 

      9 years ago from Florida

      I love Italy and your hub makes me want to go back and live there again! My all-time favorite breakfast is un capuccino e un cornetto con crema. Thanks for sharing your tips!

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Capo! Grazie.

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 

      9 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Definitely good lady. I would love the return to Italy. I fancy a trip to the Dolomites skiing next winter

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Glad you have nice memories of Riccione - bar's are really fascinating, you're right and thanks for comments. Maybe you'll come again soon?

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 

      9 years ago from Nottingham UK

      Nice hub. I still vividly remember a trip to Riccione on the adriatic coast and watching the locals walk in, put a euro on the bar, down and espresso and then walk out. It was really fascinating to watch. You can't beat Italian Coffee!

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      bamuscarella. Grazie for your comment...haven't seen Soup Nazi but time to have a look!

      the raggededge, grazie

      Judi Bee, thanks and for voting

      johnwindbell Yup, a super nice drug fix! thanks for your comment

    • johnwindbell profile image


      9 years ago from - the land of beards and buggies

      All these niceties and preparations for a drug fix! Nice hub page. Thanks for your time.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      9 years ago from UK

      Love this hub - great photos, informative and well written!

      Voted up etc.

    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev G 

      9 years ago from Wales, UK

      Quirky, fun, useful and interesting! Love the pics. Grazie.

    • bamuscarella profile image


      9 years ago from Buffalo, NY

      grazie per l'articolo! I miss Italy and want an espresso after reading this hub. I'm a huge Seinfeld fan and the way you describe the ordering process in the beginning of your article reminds me of the Soup Nazi! :)

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Promise, you'll get addicted once you try! Let me know, please. Thanks so much for commenting. It's really not complicated; you just have to pay before you order (whilst your order) and then enjoy the vibes and be a part of the scene!! (and then go home and relax :)

    • Flightkeeper profile image


      9 years ago from The East Coast

      Getting a cup of coffee in Italy seems rather complicated and expensive not to mention full of anxiety. I'll probably try it once and then head home to relax. :)

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Oh Robie! How sad you just can't do that! Come over to Padova for your capuccino and cornetto. Great that you voted and thanks so much.

    • Robie Benve profile image

      Robie Benve 

      9 years ago from Ohio

      Hi Goodlady, I love how you describe the Italian bar as a dance floor and the multitasking yet polite baristas quick acting and thinking.

      On the sad side, your story and your pictures made me really homesick, now I want to jump on a plane and go order a capuccino e cornetto in my favorite bar in Padova.

      But despite that I vote you up and awesome. ;)

    • GoodLady profile imageAUTHOR

      Penelope Hart 

      9 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Just be cool! And you'll feel right at home. Thanks for dropping in.

    • Crystal Tatum profile image

      Crystal Tatum 

      9 years ago from Georgia

      Oh my goodness, that's a lot to remember! But now I do have a hankering for a cup of coffee and a trip to Italy!


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