Italian coffee culture has gone global. Not only has Italian coffee lingo been adopted into the regular lexicon in the U.S. and beyond, but the Italian-invented espresso machine is now a common sight in cafés all over the world. But as we try to imitate the coffee culture of Italy, it seems to elude us. No one does espresso-based coffee quite like the Italians.
Coffee is a near-sacred drink for Italians, who punctuate their days with coffee-related rituals. Especially in Milan, where caffeine keeps the busy folks from the high-speed worlds of fashion and finance fueled. Before you go and order yourself a coffee, read our guide to help you navigate Milano’s coffee scene.
Coffee in Milan: Where to Go
If you want to sample authentic Milanese coffee culture, head for one of the classic coffeehouses that have been brewing up espressos for decades. You might try the art nouveau-style Pasticceria Bastianello in San Babila, for instance, which has been in operation since the 1930s. The Milanese have been known to trek across town for a cappuccino and brioche here.
Nearby, in the shopping district of Quadrilatero della Moda sits another longstanding Milanese favorite, Pasticceria Cova. This coffeehouse has been in operation since 1817 and its bar is often packed with bag-laden shoppers, who refuel with espressos and pastries in between boutique hopping.
Perhaps the most Instagram-worthy of all Milan’s coffeehouses is Pasticceria Marchesi, which sits in a pristine 18th-century building near the brand-name boutiques of Corso Magenta. This beloved Milanese institution has been in operation since 1824, and despite Milan-based fashion giant Prada acquiring a stake in the cafe, it is still partially owned and fully operated by the same family who opened it all those generations ago. It’s known for its panettone (a sweet, bready loaf commonly associated with Christmas), but also offers a range of elegantly designed, perfect-for-coffee confections. Pasteicceria Marchesi has a second location in Quadrilatero della Moda that remains faithful to the style of the original café. This outpost is excellent for people-watching with Milan’s most fashion-forward crowd filling up the tables here, particularly during fashion week.
Then there is the belle époque-style Camparino in Galleria (previously known as Café Zucca) in Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II shopping center. Since opening in 1867, the café has attracted the who’s who of Milan, including composer Giuseppe Verdi. Stop in for a quick on-the-go coffee during the day and pore over the fabulous mosaics, chandeliers and wrought iron ornamentation.
If you’re sick of imbibing coffee Milano style – grabbing a coffee and downing it while on your feet – never fear, there are coffee shops in Milan where you can sit, sip and linger. At Pavé in Porta Venezia, for instance, there is an assortment of comfortable seating options for those who want to dawdle, as well as the ubiquitous coffee counter for anyone in a hurry.
How to Order Coffee Italian-Style
For the Italians, the classics are classics for good reason, which means you’re not expected to customize your drink Starbucks-style. A few rules to live by when ordering: There is only one size so you don’t need to specify small, medium or large. Adding sweet syrups to a perfectly concocted cappuccino is not usually an option. And just because you’ve gotten to grips with the various Italian coffee names back in your hometown’s cafes, be warned, ordering them in Italy may yield different results. Order un caffe and you’ll get an espresso. A caffè macchiato will get you an espresso with a drop of milk, while a latte macchiato with get you hot milk with a drop of coffee. Caffè lungo (Italian for “long”) is brewed with more water, while ristretto is made with less than an espresso, and is therefore more concentrated. Order a latte and you will get you a cup of hot milk.
One other thing to note: Coffee drank at the bar while standing is usually cheap. Once you sit down, you can expect the price to double or even triple.
Like what you hear? City Wonders also takes you to another Italian coffee capital on our Milan to Turin tours, or check out the Milan night tour including an elegant rooftop happy hour overlooking the Duomo!