Al Bar

April 14th, 2008, by Francesca

caffe, coffee, tazze, tazzine

NOTE: Another little lesson without audio files. I know… I am a flake. Still in catch up mode after a weekend of running around like a headless chicken. Fortunately, I had prepared this entry a week ago so at least I have something for you while I get my act together.

You already know many Italian words, but are you using them à propos? And are you pronouncing them correctly? If you speak American English, you may find the following information useful. The tips on culture and pronunciation should be generally useful, regardless of which flavor of English you are familiar with.


Espresso, often referred to simply as caffè in Italy (what other kind of coffee is there, anyway?) is a thick, smooth kind of coffee that comes served in teeny tiny cups filled only half way. None of that brodino (little broth) they serve in most American places, thank you. Not only espresso cups are small and never filled to the brim, but the frothiest part of the coffee sticks to the inside of the tazzina (small cup). It's a classic example of quality vs. quantity. Espresso is not liquid to wash down your breakfast, but rather concentrated taste and flavor to offset the sweetness of your morning cornetto (croissant).


Latte means "milk", not coffee with milk and foam, as Starbucks would have you believe. So, if you go to a bar in Italy and ask for latte, the barista will look at you funny and serve you a glass of milk, most likely cold. The closest in Italy to what people call "latte" in the US, would be cappuccino.

Cappuccino vs. Caffelatte

Caffelatte or caffè latte is what people make at home and differs from cappuccino in two important ways:
1) Unless you have a super-duper industrial strength espresso machine at home, your home made coffee will not even resemble il caffé del bar (the bar's espresso).
2) Cappuccino is a coffee drink with hot milk and foam added; Caffè latte is a milk drink with some coffee added.


American bars (think Cheers) serve alcoholic drinks and snacks to go with those drinks. A bar in Italy serves coffee drinks, pastries, fruit juices, sodas, sometimes panini, often gelato, and alcoholic drinks. You could probably think of an Italian bar as a hybrid of the American café and bar.

When people say andiamo al bar (let's go to a/the bar), they could go to have breakfast, an aperitivo before lunch, a sandwich for lunch, a digestive after lunch, a coffee with or without a sweet snack in the afternoon, an ice-cream at all hours of the day, an aperitivo before dinner, and so on.

Il bar is not just a place to eat and drink, but also a place to meet up with your friends. After work and during the weekend, people often go to their bar of choice to get together with friends. On weekedays and during business hours, it's often collegues who go to a bar together to grab a quick lunch or an after lunch coffee. Espresso is to Italians as tea is to the Brits; it's always the right time for a nice cup of coffee.

The finer points of espresso

In addition to basic espresso, these are some popular variations:

caffé ristretto shrunk coffee
caffé alto tall coffee
caffé doppio double coffee
caffé macchiato stained coffee
caffé corretto corrected coffee

caffé ristretto is a shorter espresso. When you make espresso, you leave the cup under the spigot for a certain amount of time during which the coffee poured into the cup is creamier and stronger at first and then more watery and less flavorful as the spigot runs. Coffee lovers will often ask for the "shrunk" version, with only the strongest essence from the first half of the pull.

caffé alto (or lungo) is the opposite of caffé ristretto in that the cup is left under the spigot a little longer. If you order an espresso at Starbucks, this is what you're getting.

caffé doppio is a double espresso made by placing the cup under two spigots.

caffé macchiato (mnemonic: "macchiato" = "marked") is a regular espresso "stained" with a bit of hot milk (with or without foam).

caffé corretto — I love this expression, the implication being of course that regular espresso needs "correcting". The adjustment is usually done with a few drops of grappa and you will mostly encounter this in northern Italy, especially in the Veneto region.


Have you noticed how many double consonants appear in Italian words? And we pronounce them, too!
It's important that you learn to recognize the difference between the sound of a simple consonant and that of its double, or you could end up saying something other than what you mean.
For instance:

  • pala, palla (ball)
  • note (notes), notte (night)
  • cane (dog), canne (canes)
  • coro (chorus), corro (I run)
  • faro (lighthouse), farro (spelt)

Don't think that this is too fine a distinction. You'll be glad you get the pronunciation right when we get to the next lesson: Pasta & Co. Try to say cappelletti. Trust me; it's a word worth all the pronunciation trouble. Cappelletti in brodo (in broth) and cappelletti al ragú are a basic pasta dish in Emilia-Romagna and one of the most satisfying.

4 Responses to “Al Bar”

  1. Cilla Ann Says:
    Could I please have two caffé macchiato please this morning. I might wake up. :) Thank you so much for the lesson.
  2. MaryjoO Says:
    I'll second the caffe macciatos but will try and make a Cappuccino here at home: 1/3 espresso 1/3 steamed milk 1/3 foam? We have Illy here that we order by the case. Lucky us! Thanks for this -- we know you are busy!
  3. karen Says:
    cornetto con caffé macchiato...I'll try that at Starbucks next time and see what happens!
  4. Laura Says:
    Funny... you apologize for no audio but I can hear you speaking the words in my mind. With proper pronunciation. And with this post, now that I'm officially a tea drinker, it may be time to try coffee again.