Espresso and the other: how to order
Coffee like an Italian
My grandma uses to say that coffee has to follow the rule of the “three C”, that is “caldo, comodo e in compagnia”. “Caldo” means hot: coffee must be hot, not warm. (Actually, you can have an iced coffee, but we will talk about it later). “Comodo” means comfortable. The coffee break is a ritual and therefore it must be enjoyed with due calm. No rush, no pressure. The last C, in compagnia, means together with someone else and there’s no need to explain: everything is better when shared. For us Italiana, just a few things are more important than coffee. There’s a real world made of rituals and traditions behind it and a long list of ways you can drink it, each one with its hidden rules – learn them and you will never again receive disapproving looks when ordering a cappuccino after a pizza.
The basic one. Order “a coffee” and you’ll have an espresso. No milk, no alcohol, no foam. Not too short and not too long. Simplicity is sometimes the answer and that’s why we drink lot of espresso.
When more water is let through the ground, an espresso becomes a “caffé lungo”. It has a weaker taste, so it’s perfect for those who prefer delicate flavors. A caffè lungo should not be mistaken for a caffè americano, which is an espresso with hot water added to it or a long black, hot water with a short black added to it, which is the inverse order to an americano and done to preserve the crema.
Ristretto in Italian means ‘restricted’ and that’s basically the difference between an espresso and a ristretto. More water is used in an Espresso than a Ristretto. And if you want to get really technical, the water to coffee ratio is as follows: Espresso – 1:2, Ristretto – 1:1. This often means that a ristretto is stronger than an espresso because it is less diluted by water. The flavors that come through a shorter extraction are different to those of a longer espresso extraction. Not better, just different.
The word macchiato, like most terminology surrounding espresso drinks, is Italian. It roughly translates to “marked”or “stained,” which gives us our starting point: caffè macchiato is an espresso “stained” with milk. It is prepared by first pulling a shot of espresso, as normal. Then about 1-2 teaspoons of steamed milk and a bit of foam are poured on top.
A cappuccino is one of the more popular drinks on an espresso menu. Traditionally, it’s 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk and 1/3 frothed milk on top. You’ve probably heard the oft-repeated story that you should never, ever order a cappuccino in Italy after 11am or the tourist-label will be immediate. The main thing to understand is that this has nothing to do with the cappuccino, and everything to do with milk. Italians, you see, are obsessed with digestion: consuming milk after a meal, Italians believe, will totally screw up your digestion. So, if you want to order coffee like a real Italian, go for a macchiato after 11 AM.
Caffè corretto is a way Italians get a daily dose of espresso and one of hard liquor in the same fix. Caffè corretto is prepared by adding a few drops of liquor into the shot of espresso. Some bartenders serve the liquor separately, either in a shot glass or just by bringing you the entire bottle, so you can prepare the perfect coffee-to-liquor ratio. Common liquors used in caffè corretto are grappa, sambuca, or brandy. When ordering in Italy, simply order a “corretto alla ...” and specify your liquor of choice.
If you plan on visiting Italy in summer, remember to order a caffè shakerato to have a fresh, energizing break. In its most simple form, a shakerato (pronounced like it looks, caf-fay shak-er-a-to) is made by combining freshly made espresso, simple syrup, and lots of ice, then shaking it vigorously until a froth forms when poured. It is usually strained while being poured into a martini glass or another stemmed glass.
Order a “Latte” in Italy and you’ll receive a glass full of pure, white milk. Because that’s exactly what you ordered. If you’re looking forward to a milky coffee, served in a glass, prepare to be disappointed.