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  • Writer's pictureNathaniel Mellor

Espresso Drinks and How to Order Them

A list of common espresso drinks and what they mean

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Thankfully, in the States, we have a fairly decent grasp of what different coffee drinks are, what they mean, and how to serve them. And then we go to Italy, whip out our Italian and ask for a macchiato, and are absolutely emotionally ruined when a few ounces of liquid are plopped in front of us.

Yes, I do realize that not everyone will have the Starbucks-version of a macchiato in their minds as they order in Italy. But, it's a common misconception, and one that I will hope to dispel.

No Starbucks hate here, just to be clear. I don't think their drinks remotely resembles Italian espresso drinks, but it's a fun treat to have once in awhile.

So, what are Italian coffee drinks?


Okay, let's get confusing for a second. While "espresso" is the Italian word for the short shot of coffee, "expresso" isn't necessarily wrong, it just has its roots in French and Portuguese. Italians decided to not take on the "x" when shifting from Latin to Italian.

Espresso in a small white espresso cup on a brown table.
While it's a beautiful photo, this is way too much coffee for a proper espresso.

So, in Italy, you'll order an "espresso" not an "expresso" and it's important to stress that first "s" to sound like a local.

Second, you won't actually ever order an espresso. Or, to be more clear, you won't say the word "espresso" when ordering an espresso.

Espresso is the normal way to take a coffee in Italy. So it's just called "caffè normale" or "normal coffee."

Caffè Macchiato

In the States, and honestly, everywhere I've been that speaks English, asking for a "macchiato" from any half-decent coffee shop will get me the same thing. A small shot of espresso with a dash of steamed milk. What could be so hard to understand?

Well, in Italy, we have "caffè macchiato" and "latte macchiato". The word "macchiato" simply means "marked." So it's "coffee marked with milk" or "milk marked with coffee." Walking into a cafe and asking for a "macchiato" might give you two different things at two different cafes.

If you want something more suitable for summertime, you can also try a "macchiato freddo" where they will add a dash of cold milk instead of steamed milk.


So, you want a macchiato, but you aren't feeling the steamed milk? You just want the frothed milk on top? A little dab of a cloud on the coffee? Believe it or not, that also has it's own name—schiumato. It will also make you sound like a total native ordering this.


Can we name a coffee drink more popular than the cappuccino? Maybe the latte, and there's a lot of questions surrounding the Italian origin of that one (apparently, it could be American). In many ways, cappuccino was and is the ultimate breakfast drink. It was made for dipping. Little biscuits and cookies are commonly dipped into cappuccini (plural of cappuccino). It's the best breakfast drink ever made, unless you like tomatoes, and then I guess Bloody Marys are better in that regard.

A cappuccino with a classic, floral design in the foam.
A cappuccino.

But what's with Italians not wanting people to drink cappuccini after lunch?

Well, Italians are big into the right food at the right time. Just before lunch, they'll typically have some kind of lightly alcoholic drink like an Aperol, Campari, or a beer. Especially "bitters" drinks like Aperol and Campari, which are designed to aid digestion. Then they have lunch, usually with wine. An espresso follows afterwards, mostly to counter the sleepy effects of wine and food.

So, when should you have a mug of milk? After all that food? Italians think that milk will disrupt digestion if it's taken on top of food. Which is why so many Italians have their gelato before lunch and dinner. And while it's still a popular dessert, very few Italians will have a gelato right after dinner, preferring to a wait an hour or two.

So it's not that Italians think having a cappuccino after lunch will disrupt the balance of nature, only the balance of digestion.

Caffè Latte

Remember when we talked about the macchiato and I said that you can't just order a "macchiato" because that can mean two different things?

Same problem here.

"Latte" is the Italian word for "milk". So if you pop into a cafe and ask for a "latte" you're getting a glass of milk. A caffè latte will be a coffee with a ton of steamed milk in it.


Super simply, a "doppio" is a double shot. The barista shouldn't just be letting the cup sit extra long under the basket, but pulling a second shot for this.


Sort of the espresso version of an American cup of coffee. Adding hot water to an espresso to water it down.


A long espresso. While some places like to add in a little hot water, that's closer to an "Americano". A proper lungo is when the cup is left under the basket for an extra few seconds making the espresso more watery.


Incredibly popular in Southern Italy, the "ristretto" or "restricted" is an espresso pulled with less water than a typical espresso. This can even be barely enough coffee to coat the bottom of the espresso cup. The "ristretto" uses less water, and a shorter pull time. This results in less coffee, a punchier flavor, and less caffeine. It's the perfect espresso for someone who wants to toss back a few shots a day.


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