The Embarrassing Cappuccino Mistake To Avoid When Visiting Italy

Much like tea, rituals surrounding coffee differ from country to country and even between regions. However, few places take their rules regarding coffee consumption more seriously than Italy, especially when it comes to the cappuccino.

For reference, a cappuccino is an espresso combined with steamed milk and topped with foam, sometimes including a sprinkle of cocoa powder on top. The drink originates from Italy, and the name is thought to be derived from the similarity between the color of the drink and the robes Capuchin friars used to wear.

Today, the cappuccino is a popular drink throughout Italy, but there are some very strict rules around when it can be consumed. Italians everywhere warn their children and unwitting tourists not to drink a cappuccino after breakfast. Why? Apparently, the copious amount of milk in the drink is bad for your digestion.

While this seems incredibly peculiar to the average person who might grab a vanilla sweet cream cold brew or pumpkin-spice latte after lunch once in a while, who are we to argue? Italians are some of the longest-lived people in the world, so maybe they're onto something.

Other coffee oddities in Italy

The weird coffee rules in Italy don't begin and end with cappuccinos. There are a few more things to take note of before you order your first espresso at the cute bar below your hotel. Don't worry, though. Most Italians are relatively nice, and if they do give you a funny look or have follow-up questions, don't get flustered. They just want to make sure you get what you actually want.

First and foremost, if you ask for a latte in Italy, you'll probably receive an odd look and a glass of milk. If you want a latte as we know it in the States, ask for a "caffé latte." Next up, the espresso. While it might seem counterintuitive since the word comes from Italian, if you just want a shot of espresso, just ask for "un caffé." This is the drink of choice for 99% of working Italians, who just need a shot of the good stuff before heading into the office. You'll be in good company.

While it used to be practically unheard of, some coffee shops in Italy now offer alternative kinds of milk. However, don't be surprised if you ask this question and they respond by asking if you want whole milk (latte intero) or reduced fat (latte scremato). If you can drink it, ask if they have soy milk, as this is the most common alternative milk in Italian coffee shops.

The best coffees to order in Italy

As foreign as the coffee culture might be to visitors from outside of Europe, once you get a sip of some of their best brews, you might never taste coffee the same way again.

If you enjoy a strong cup of coffee but still like a splash of milk to temper the bitterness, one of the best coffee drinks you can order in Italy is the macchiato. Pronounced "mah-key-ah-toe," the name of this coffee means stained since the espresso is "stained" with a few drops of steamed milk. Feeling particularly jetlagged? Order a doppio macchiato, which is two shots of espresso with some steamed milk. This will come in a slightly larger cup, but is still smaller than a cappuccino.

Next is the ristretto. This drink is half the volume of a regular espresso, meaning it's more concentrated and made with less water. It's said that the ristretto is bolder, a bit sweeter, and can have a higher concentration of flavors.

Finally, if you're dying for a cup of coffee that's more akin to the drip brew you're used to back home, order this accurately named drink: the Americano. This is two shots of espresso with a cup of hot water. Just be aware that if you try to order this in the evening, you may get the cocktail version of this drink. Ask for a "caffé americano" if you need a pick-me-up after dinner.