How to drink espresso the Italian way | Exploring the rules and etiquette of drinking Italian espresso

For Italians, espresso is a cherished ritual, and a testament to the country's rich culinary culture. If you're aiming to embrace this aspect of Italian life, understanding how to drink espresso like a local is essential. In Italy, espresso is not merely a caffeine fix but rather a part of the social fabric. Understanding the beverage and embracing the etiquette offers a glimpse into a key ritual of Italian daily life.

Here, we discuss the traditions and etiquette of drinking Italian espresso, exploring what makes the Italian espresso experience unique.

The cultural significance of Italian espresso

Espresso, meaning "pressed out" in Italian, is a concentrated coffee brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water through finely-ground coffee beans. Italians typically enjoy their espresso standing at the bar, engaging in conversations with friends or the barista. This ritual is a common part of daily life in Italy, from the bustling streets of Rome to the serene landscapes of Tuscany.

Italian espresso originated in the 19th century and has since evolved to become an integral part of Italian culture and daily life. The birth of Italian espresso is credited to Angelo Moriondo, often hailed as the “father of espresso”, who patented the first espresso machine in 1884. This invention marked the beginning of a coffee revolution.

For more information on the history of Italian espresso – read our guide “ What is Italian espresso coffee? ”.

Coffee cups in cafe in Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy

When is the right time of the day to drink espresso?

Unlike in many other cultures, Italians rarely drink espresso with meals but often prefer it as a standalone treat, especially after lunch or dinner, to aid digestion and linger over the flavours. Many Italians savour an espresso while standing at the bar.

Milk-based coffees such as cappuccinos, however, are only drank in the morning. In Italy, the belief is that drinking milk-based coffees after a meal, especially in the afternoon or evening, can disrupt digestion. Italians, therefore, prefer to drink milk with coffee only in the morning, switching to espresso or other non-milk-based coffees later in the day. This convention reflects a broader Italian principle of dietary balance and the role of coffee as a social break rather than a meal accompaniment.

Find out more about the history of Italian espresso here.

Buongiorno Caffe – Morning Coffee with Carluccio’s

Milano & Napoli coffee beans, along with a classic 3 cup Bialetti Moka pot set

Our Morning Coffee set brings you both our Milano & Napoli coffee beans, along with a classic 3 cup Bialetti Moka pot. Buongiorno!

Shop the Buongiorno Caffe gift hamper set.

How to drink espresso like an Italian

Emulating the Italian way of enjoying espresso involves understanding several unwritten rules and traditions:

The quality of espresso is vital

For Italians, this begins with choosing the right café, known as "bar" in Italy, that uses high-quality beans and a skilled barista. The hallmark of an expertly crafted espresso lies in its aroma, the ideal temperature, and the presence of a rich, creamy layer known as crema.

Choosing beans that have been roasted in Italy allows you to enjoy the authentic Italian experience. At Carluccio’s, all our coffee beans are roasted in Italy, allowing you to enjoy your coffee the Italian way from your own home. Our Milani espresso coffee is refined and smooth – a perfect option if you are looking for a sweeter blend. Our Napoli espresso coffee, on the other hand, provides a dark and earthy blend, creating a sultry and exotic flavour. For a gentle yet rich flavour, our Siena espresso provides aromatic hints of citrus and almond.

You can shop our full range of authentic Italian coffee and hot drinks here.

Savour the moment

Despite its small size, an espresso is designed to be savoured. Take a moment to appreciate the aroma before taking small sips. Drinking espresso the Italian way means immersing yourself in the experience, enjoying the flavour and the aftertaste. A quality espresso should have a pleasant, lingering aftertaste.

Familiarise yourself with Italian terms and learn more about Italian coffee culture

Whether you are planning a trip to Italy or want to find out more about Italian coffee culture - familiarise yourself with terms like "caffè normale" (a regular espresso), "caffè ristretto" (a more concentrated version), or "caffè lungo" (a slightly longer espresso). If you prefer a touch of milk, "caffè macchiato" adds a spot of milk to the espresso, balancing the intensity.

Embracing the Italian espresso at home

Replicating the Italian espresso experience at home involves more than just brewing the perfect coffee. It's about creating an atmosphere that pays homage to Italian traditions. Invest in a high-quality espresso machine, select high-quality, authentic coffee beans, and learn the art of espresso making.

You may want to also invest in a moka pot, often described as a stovetop espresso maker. A moka pot is a two-chambered device primarily made of three components: the bottom chamber or cylinder, the filter funnel, and the top chamber or collector. With its inception dating back to 1933, it has become an iconic symbol of Italian culture. The process of making coffee in a Moka pot involves filling the bottom chamber with water, adding finely ground coffee to the filter, and patiently waiting as it brews on the stove.

Barista pouring coffee from moka pot coffee maker to a coffee cup

Enjoy authentic Italian espresso coffee from Carluccio’s

At Carluccio’s, we offer an authentic Italian experience with all our coffees. From the moment Antonio Carluccio opened his first Italian food shop in Neal Street, we’ve been on a mission to share the true taste of Italy with everyone.

Why Carluccio’s?

Our focus on the detail, from bean to brew, reflects our deep respect for both people and produce, promising a coffee that's not just consumed but truly savoured. At Carluccio's, we're committed to delivering a memorable experience that celebrates the freshness, quality, and taste that Italian coffee is renowned for.

Our coffee beans are roasted in Italy, bringing the authentic Italian bar experience to your table.

Choose between our sweet and refined Milano blend, our rich and lively Napoli blend, or our intense, creamy and full-bodied Roma blend for notes of walnut, dark caramel and spice. For a gentle yet rich flavour, our Siena espresso provides aromatic hints of citrus and almond.

Shop our full range of Italian coffee and hot drinks here.

Shop our full coffee and hot drink range here. For the perfect pairing with your coffee – explore our authentic Italian cakes and biscuits.

Enjoy a dark, exotic roast with Carluccio’s espresso di Napoli

Our Napoli espresso coffee has been blended and roasted in the traditional style of the master roasters of Naples, which is the darkest roast in all Italy using Arabica beans with a little kick of Robusta. This blend is rich, lively and well-rounded, presenting dark cocoa, smoky flavours and blackberry notes.

Our Napoli espresso beans can also be ground finely for use in an espresso machine. When ground coarse for use in a cafetiere, it can present flavours of cinnamon and cherry.

Napoli espresso coffee.

Shop our Napoli espresso coffee.

Frequently asked questions

What is the significance of the espresso cup in Italian espresso culture?

Italian espresso cups come in traditional and modern designs. Espresso cups offer a small, concentrated burst of flavour and aroma. This practice encourages savouring the coffee in a standing position at a bar, emphasising the Italian penchant for brief yet meaningful breaks throughout the day.

Why is espresso important to Italians?

Espresso holds cultural significance, embodies traditional preparation, and is integral to coffee culture. It also fosters social gatherings and is viewed as a ritual.

How should espresso be enjoyed for optimal flavour?

To fully savour the intricate flavours of espresso, it should be enjoyed promptly after it's prepared, when its aromas are most vibrant, and the crema is intact. Taking a moment to appreciate the aroma before tasting can also enhance the sensory experience.

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