Its majesty: the capuccino
The Cappuccino is no laughing matter.
Nearly all Roman’s stand around the bar of their local coffee shop each morning to take their espresso–known by locals as simply cafè–a strong shot of pure crude oil. The favorite alternative for morning sippers is cappuccino, essentially an espresso topped with a thick layer of warm frothed milk. However, one should be aware that coffee is not merely a beverage, it’s a religion, and breaking the sanctimonious rules around how and when to consume it can create some difficulties. For example, cappuccino is viewed as strictly a morning beverage and ordering one after 11am will surely transform the face of your once jovial waiter into one of horror. Though leniency is granted in the late afternoon when ordered it as a snack, by far the worst offence is to ask for cappuccino after dinner–it’s like spitting in the chef’s face. Being able to consume an entire cappuccino after you’ve had a full meal implies that the food was terrible, and consequently you still have enough room to down 8oz of coffee. Also, the Italian’s have a ‘thing’ about drinking milk after a meal, a dairy rule that mysteriously does not apply to panna cotta, gelato, or any other milk based desserts, but cappuccino–blasphemy! Don’t do it. Instead order a simple café or a grappa or even a limoncello after dinner, and stay in the good graces of the food gods–and the Romans are most certainly food gods.
But that’s not all. Visitors to Italy who frequent local coffee shops (and you really should) will in time overhear a list of wondrous coffee drinks that make the Frappuccino seem rather banal and mainstream. Get yourself up-to-snuff so that you can experiment with new Italian brews yourself or simply nod in knowing when your neighbor orders their cafè al vetro.
Macchiato: Espresso with a dollop of foamed milk on top. Though this can be taken cold with chilled milk, the hot version is much more popular. This is a great option for travelers hoping to ‘cheat’ the cappuccino rules and get their foam fix after hours.
Ristretto and Lungo: The former means short, and the latter means long (terms that should not be applied beyond the cafè) and refers to the amount of water added to a single shot. Those seeking more caffeine ought to order a double espresso or doppio, as ordering a lungo will simply result in a watered down shot.
Al Vetro: Is espresso served in a tiny glass cup rather than a tiny porcelain mug and can’t help but resemble a shot of Baileys. The general reasoning behind ordering one’s coffee al vetro is because is cools down quicker, an admirable trait on a hot day. However, this is Italy and aesthetic is paramount, espresso presented in a pretty little glass looks irresistibly cool.
Freddo: Is iced espresso served in only slighter larger volume than its warm cousin, so don’t expect to tote this baby all around town. Café freddo is a wonderful option in the heat and is usually served already sweetened, so those who prefer their coffee bitter would do well to order their café amaro.
Americano: Means American coffee and if you’re ordering this you’ve already failed because they don’t actually make American coffee in Italy, at least not the kind you have in mind. Instead, hot water is added to an otherwise perfectly good espresso in an effort to mimic the strength and volume of the overpriced variety sold in paper to-go cups. So unless you’re one of those people who comes to Italy only to rave about the food on the cruise ship, stick to the local menu and mind your P’s and cappuccino’s.
Rome Spotter tip! If the day is warm, try out café shakerato con Baileys! You will be delighted.