coffee italy | this city life
How to,  Travel

How NOT to order coffee (and avoid annoying the Italians)

If a Wicks goes on holiday and doesn’t end up in some sort of kerfuffle,
is the Wicks really on holiday?

It doesn’t matter where we go, there’s always something lost in translation. It ranges from the absurd (getting evicted from an apartment in New York because the owner skipped rent), to the brilliantly confusing (ordering a glass of Mountain Dew and being served a pint of milk – in America).

I like to take a phrasebook away with us when we’re not familiar with the language. So when we were in Rome for a long weekend, we used it for absolutely everything. The only Italian I knew was ‘grazie’ and ‘ciao’, which really didn’t get us far! My other half was determined to order his own coffee though, thinking it would be easy. And as is tradition for us, it was not. Here’s how not to order coffee (and avoid annoying the Italians).

First we sat in the cutest little cafe in The Vatican. We knew that Italy was big on coffee, but it wasn’t until I saw how busy this bar was that I got how important coffee is to Italians too. People would come in, shout their order, pay, down it and run off as quick as they came. It seemed to only be us tourists sitting down!

The server came over and we got straight into ordering. ‘Un caffè’ he asked, pretty pleased with himself. A few minutes later he got an espresso pushed in front of him. ‘Hmm,’ he whispered at me before taking a sniff of this very small drink. He’s quite picky with his coffee, and this was way before we delved into the addictive world of our very own Nespresso machine.

‘I kinda wanted a much bigger coffee with milk…’ He sipped the espresso anyway and deemed it too strong. Then off we went (him slightly buzzing) for a bit of shopping around Piazza di Spagna.

how not to order coffee | this city life
How NOT to order coffee, take it from us!

The next time we sat down for lunch, he had another go. ‘Latte please?’ – this time in English. He really thought he’d got it that time, and so did I. He usually drank long coffees topped up with loads of milk. Surely ‘latte’ would get him what he wanted?

Then a glass of hot milk appeared – with no coffee. Well, I thought it was hilarious! Turns out that ‘latte’ is milk in Italian. No wonder the server raised his brow when we ordered! I managed to splutter ‘..too milky’ between giggles. We were about to enter the fairytale territory, I could feel it – Wicksylocks and the Three (Coffee) Beans. He really didn’t want to correct his mistake and annoy the server, so he drank the milk anyway and we wandered off for some more sightseeing.

The phrasebook really didn’t help because it was so basic, so I turned to Facebook for help and to joke about the hot milk incident. One person suggested asking for ‘caffè mit leche’, which probably would have confused everyone involved. Another mentioned ‘caffè lait’ might help. Then I realised my friends apparently had no idea how languages work! Thankfully my Italian friend saved the day and suggested we ask for a caffè latte – it really was that simple.

One caffè latte later (and an additional selection of a Lungo to be specific) and we finally knew how to order coffee in Italy. It took a whole day, two very funny attempts and more Euros than I care to remember!

Here’s how to order coffee the right way…

  • Caffè – an espresso
  • Caffè Americano – espresso with hot water added to it
  • Caffè macchiato – espresso (see a pattern here?) with milk foam on top
  • Caffè latte – what we know simply as a latte (one third coffee, two thirds hot milk)
  • Cappuccino – espresso, hot milk and foam on top
  • Caffè corretto – espresso with a dash of liquor

Have you ever got something lost in translation when abroad? Tell me in the comments!

images via

Charley is a professional copywriter and tea-lover currently living in Leeds. She writes about city living and city travel (with a few cats thrown in).