How to Drink Espresso: the 5 Etiquette Rules to Do It Like a True Italian!

Drinking espresso in Italy involves more than just sipping coffee; it's an art form. From enjoying it seated or at the counter, cleansing the palate with water, to the correct way to stir and sip. Following these traditions turns coffee drinking into an authentic Italian experience.

By Cookist

Espresso is not just a coffee; it's an institution, a cultural hallmark of Italy where its history is as rich as its flavor. Born in the early 20th century, the espresso quickly became Italy's most cherished morning ritual, synonymous with Italian craftsmanship and culinary pride. Its name, derived from the Italian word for "express," reflects not only the speed of its preparation but also the essence of Italian hospitality—quick, efficient, and warm.

Unlike the leisurely enjoyed American cup of joe, an espresso is a quick, intense experience, embodying the Italian ethos of living life with passion and zest. Yet, despite its straightforward appearance, there's a precise etiquette to savoring an espresso, especially if you find yourself in an Italian bar. Here, we explore the unspoken rules that make espresso drinking a true Italian art.

Rule 1: The Sit-Down Pleasure


In Italy, espresso is more than a drink—it's a pause from life's hustle, a moment to indulge in pure pleasure. This is why Italians rarely order their espresso to go. Tradition dictates that you savor your espresso either seated, soaking in the ambiance of the café, or standing at the counter, engaging in brief but meaningful interactions. Rushing with a paper cup in hand is a foreign concept in Italy; espresso is to be enjoyed leisurely, even if it only takes a few sips.

Rule 2: Cleanse Your Palate


Before even lifting the tiny cup, Italians follow a simple but crucial step: cleansing the palate with a glass of water. This preparatory gesture ensures that your taste buds are primed to appreciate the complex flavors of the espresso fully. Water acts as a blank canvas, allowing the rich, robust notes of the coffee to paint a masterpiece in your mouth. It’s a ritual that enhances the sensory experience, elevating the act of drinking coffee into a connoisseur’s affair.

Rule 3: The Art of Stirring


Stirring your espresso might seem straightforward, but in Italy, even this has its technique. The goal is not merely to mix sugar but to awaken the espresso's soul, blending its aromas and flavors thoroughly. The correct method is a gentle yet decisive stirring from top to bottom, not in circles. This technique ensures every sip is as aromatic and flavorful as the Italian tradition demands, making every espresso an experience to remember.

Rule 4: Etiquette Over Spoon Licking


Upon serving, you might find a small spoon resting on your saucer. While it’s tempting to use it in various ways, one cardinal rule prevails: DO NOT lick the spoon. In the refined world of Italian coffee drinking, the spoon serves a purpose—to stir your sugar—and once its job is done, it should be gracefully retired to the side of the saucer. This small act of restraint speaks volumes about the elegance and etiquette deeply ingrained in Italian culture.

Rule 5: A Touch of Naples


Embracing the Neapolitan way adds another layer to the espresso experience. Before taking a sip, slightly wetting the edge of the cup with a bit of coffee is a practiced gesture among Neapolitans. This ritual is not just for show; it tempers the coffee's heat, bridging the temperature gap between the hot liquid and your lips, ensuring a harmonious first contact. It’s a nuanced touch that epitomizes the Italian knack for infusing everyday moments with thoughtfulness and elegance.

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