France vs. Italy: The Ultimate Coffee Culture Showdown and How to Order Without Embarrassing Yourself
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We've noticed that some of the most Googled questions about travelling to Italy and France are about how to order coffee there. This isn't exactly surprising since coffee is such an important part of people's everyday lives. While there are some similarities, coffee culture in France and Italy also have a lot of differences, and it can be confusing, especially if you are travelling to both countries in one trip like many people do.
Below we will list those similarities and differences, how to order, and where to find the best coffee during your trip.
Coffee In Italy
What to Order
- Caffé - This is just a plain espresso, they make it strong (ristretto) unless you specify otherwise (see caffé lungo)
- Macchiato - Espresso “marked” with foam (steamed milk)
- Cappuccino - Espresso in a larger cup topped with half steamed milk and half foam. Do not order after 11 am!
- Americano - This is the closest you will get to filtered coffee in Italy. Espresso diluted with hot water. Sometimes they will have it already mixed for you, sometimes they will bring you an espresso shot in a larger cup with a little carafe of hot water to do it yourself.
- Caffé lungo - Similar to allongé in France. Espresso made with more water so it’s not quite as bitter and syrupy.
- Caffé latte - Similar to a latte in English-speaking countries…espresso drowned in a whole bunch of steamed milk and a little foam. You MUST make sure to say “caffé latte” and not just “latte” or you will just get a glass of milk. In our opinion, it is better to just avoid this completely since this is practically not coffee anymore anyway.
- Moka - This is the type of coffee most Italians drink at home if they don’t have Nespresso machine. A strongish coffee made on the stove in a Moka pot, I think of it as somewhere in between an espresso and an Americano. It is generally not found in most coffee bars, but there are some Moka bars floating around, so if you mind yourself in one, they will ask you to specify if you mean espresso or Moka if you just order “caffé”
Tips About Coffee In Italy and How to Order
Don’t expect to lollygag around for hours sipping on your coffee like you can in France. In Italy, most people drink their coffee standing at the bar. It is also cheaper to do this since there is a service charge for sitting at a table.
Instructions for Ordering: Walk in, order and pay at the register, then move over to the bar with your receipt and wait for the barista to hand you your drink. Douse it with sugar, and drink it within three sips. Then walk out and enjoy a day of sightseeing. Repeat multiple times daily.
Like in France, it is common to order coffee after a meal, but not a cappuccino or any other drink with milk in it. This is seen as insulting since it appears that you are not full from your meal.
Our Thoughts On Coffee in Italy
Some people like to say that the Italians have the best coffee in the world. We won't argue that Italians know how to brew coffee the best. They invented espresso and they are pros at it. They even inspired Starbucks to name all their blasphemous drinks in Italian.
Coffee is also super cheap in Italy because the government subsidizes it. You can usually get an espresso for just €1. However, in our opinion, it is cheap for a reason...the quality of the beans. In most cases, this is very mass-produced coffee that is anything but fresh.
So while the Italians know how to handle coffee the best, they do not use the best ingredients, which is kind of odd considering they are so picky about using the best, freshest ingredients for everything else!
Coffee In France
What to Order
- Un Café - This is plain, black coffee brewed like espresso. However, it is not ristretto and not nearly as strong as in Italy.
- Une Noisette - Similar to a macchiato, this is espresso with a hint of steamed milk/cream. Even though the name means “hazelnut”, this has absolutely nothing to do with hazelnut except for the colour.
- Café Americain - Filtered coffee like you may be used to at home
- Un Allongé - Espresso with double the amount of water like caffé lungo in Italy
- Café créme - Espresso with steamed milk/cream (you might also get this if you order café au lait)
- Café au lait - Coffee with steamed milk (at home this is usually filtered coffee, but if ordered at a café it will generally be espresso with steamed milk)
- Expresso or café express - Espresso. Not necessary to order it this way unless they ask to clarify. Just order un café.
Tips About Coffee In France and How to Order
It is very typical to order coffee after a meal, and it will usually arrive after your dessert since coffee is very rarely ever consumed with food outside of breakfast. The only way around this is if you order "Café gourmand", which is an espresso with an assortment of mini desserts (highly recommended if it is offered at your restaurant).
Like in Italy, you don't want to order any sort of milky coffee after breakfast, but feel free to have black coffee any time of the day.
Unless you have a perfect French accent (which I guarantee you don’t unless you ARE French), the server will detect your foreignness and if you order “un café” they will usually have you clarify if you mean espresso or “café Americain”.
The nice thing is you don't need to drink it standing up, and you can linger for as long as you want.
Our Thoughts On Coffee In France
While we used to be solidly in the Italy camp in the coffee debate, our last trip has changed our minds, and we prefer French coffee. However, we still prefer the coffee we make at home with high quality freshly roasted beans.
If you are coffee snobs like us and have an appreciation for freshly roasted beans or are looking for a pour-over, French* press, or anything else, you will need to visit a specialty coffee shop. These used to be very rare in France, but Third Wave coffee is starting to spread, so there are a few options now, mainly in Paris.
*100% not French. Invented in Italy.
Cuillier - With four locations around Paris, this is a good spot to hit if you want an espresso, Chemex, or Aeropress. The baristas know all about the different brewing methods and are happy to talk about the beans they are using with you. They also offer pastries and sandwiches.
Café Lomi - With two locations in Paris, Café Lomi had the best coffee we found in France (so far). They even offer a “coffee school” where you can learn all about coffee’s history, roasting, brewing, and barista skills. This was our favourite out of the two we visited in Paris.
Cafés au Bresil - The only roaster in Avignon (or anywhere in inland Provence for that matter). This is just a shop where you can buy their freshly roasted beans, teas, and gifts. They supplied us with a lot of coffee during our time in France. Not as good as the ones in Paris, but very reasonably priced!
Both countries have their pros and cons with their coffee culture, and both have similarities such as a preference for espresso style coffee, yet the attitude is different. We still mainly make our own coffee and generally only order coffee outside of "home" if we are eating out. Whatever your preference, now you have a better grasp on the different coffee cultures.
If you still prefer to make your own coffee, here is the equipment we use:
Manual Coffee Grinder - Travels well, and no need to worry about finding an outlet or worrying about the correct voltage if you are travelling internationally.
Aeropress Coffee Maker - Packable, durable, no electricity needed. Just add hot water.
Bodum French Press - We do sometimes take this travelling, although we have to wrap it up carefully so it doesn't break. This is what we use at home.
Have you been to France and/or Italy? What are your thoughts on the coffee? Do you hav a favourite coffee spot you'd like to share? Let us know in the comments!
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