Life is short and bittersweet, and so should be espresso.

You may think: “it’s just coffee”, but no...espresso comes with a long history of traditions and rules. We Italians take it very seriously and I'm about to tell you why.

I’m Marco, and in this episode of Inevitaly we’re exploring the etiquette of Italian coffee, so next time you visit Italy, you’ll fit right in. Make sure you subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter so you can be notified of upcoming episodes and articles. Andiamo, let’s go!

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Espresso is a quick but intense affair

First thing's first, espresso means quick, fast...well, technically it means express but don’t you dare call it an EXPRESSO. Italians can’t stand that. Unlike in the US where people walk around with pints of coffee in ginormous cups warming their hands for hours, espresso is not a sweet lover you spend time with — it is a quick but intense affair. "Boom, and I’m out" 😂

In Italy it is customary to drink espresso quickly, in one or two sips, standing at the bar (it probably takes people on average 30 seconds to finish it). It's considered bad manners to linger and sip on your espresso.

Drinking espresso while standing = bad luck

However, if you're anywhere else but the bar or counter, it’s considered bad luck to drink coffee while standing. So make sure you sit down to enjoy espresso at home or elsewhere. I know…Italians…we don’t always love to follow rules but have so many of them! 😁

Italians are serious about coffee

Espresso is very near and dear to our hearts. It’s a daily ritual, a small luxury and a way to bond with friends and family. That’s why we have the deepest respect for it and we’re so picky about it. Nothing is worse to an Italian than a bad espresso! (Actually yes, if you order cappuccino after noon you’ll break an Italian heart...don’t do it!) 😉

Once, I took my brother to a cafe in San Francisco which was recommended to us for good espresso. It actually tasted so bad and so bitter, my brother was offended (and we both couldn’t get rid of the bad acidic aftertaste of badly burned, badly brewed coffee). I’m serious when I say Italians are serious about coffee.

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Espresso served with a glass of water

Here’s a curiosity: in some parts of Italy espresso is often served with a small glass of still water. You may think that’s a nice gesture to rehydrate yourself after drinking the coffee…and you may be wrong. Italians are so serious about coffee, the glass of water is intended to be a palate cleanser to prepare your mouth for the full enjoyment of espresso — not the other way around. You should carry the taste of espresso with you, throughout your day.

Espresso served with a glass of water

Il caffè sospeso di Napoli

Another interesting curiosity is the concept of “caffè sospeso” (literally suspended or pending coffee). This is very common in Naples, where people can decide to pay a coffee forward as an anonymous act of charity. Less fortunate people can walk into a cafe and ask “c’è un caffè sospeso per me?” (is there a suspended coffee for me?), and if so, they receive a free espresso.

C'è un caffè sospeso per me?

There you have it: we take espresso so seriously, it’s nearly a human right, available also to those who can’t afford it. I love it!

Caffè sospeso in Naples, Italy

Espresso as an act of meditation

So next time you sip a coffee in Italy take a moment and remember how much it means to us. It’s not just a shot of caffeine. It’s an act of meditation — even generosity, as in the Neapolitan example — like a small prayer you can take a few times a day, with different people. It can be social, or a moment of self-reflection and appreciation. As long as you’re seated, sipping quickly on your warm cup, and enjoy the present moment…you’re guaranteed an authentic Italian espresso time.

Life is short and bittersweet, and so should be espresso. Enjoy it!

If you want to make espresso at home and need help with picking the best mokas, coffee machines, Italian ground coffee, accessories and cups, you can find our shopping recommendations below:

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