I came across a fantastic article today on the Italy magazine website about how to order coffee in Italy. It really got me thinking about my trip to Athens, Greece earlier this year. I had never been to continental Europe before and as a heavy tea and coffee drinker, I assumed that ordering either of my preferred beverages would be just like going into Starbucks. Boy was I in for an education.
The Different Basic Coffees
If you enter a European coffee shop and order a coffee, the barista will give you a blank look. They will automatically assume you want an espresso. If you meant to order this, fantastic. You will receive a small teacup sized beverage with one shot of espresso in it. Many of the cafes will expect you to drink the beverage there and will not offer you the paper cup to take away.
Enjoy the experience. I recommend finding a nice table outside so you can people watch. The espresso will be strong, so order something sweet to go with it. A biscotti or a sweet bread makes a great combination. Most cafes won’t rush you. When I was in Athens, being able to enjoy a coffee outside and figure out where I wanted to head next was one of the most relaxing and quiet moments of my trip. I needed a break from all of the walking and running from place to place.
When ordering a latte, you will receive an steamed milk without any coffee. I assumed (again incorrectly) that a latte would be a little sweeter than the espresso and it would contain coffee. Thank goodness there was some sugar around. Be prepared for for latte to be hot! If you want a specialized vanilla latte, chai tea latte, etc., you will be sadly out of luck unless it’s specifically listed on the menu. The latte is meant to be a before lunch drink and is a popular breakfast item.
What I really wanted on my third attempt was to try a cappuccino. The cappuccino contains equal parts of steamed milk and espresso. A nice foamy layer of milk will rest at the top of the coffee cup. If you get a creative barista, sometimes you will see a design in your cappuccino. As with the latte, I found it difficult to find a location outside the tourist areas that served a cappuccino after 2pm.
The last basic coffee based drink I want to mention is a macchiato. No it does not come with caramel drizzle on it. The macchiato is similar to the cappuccino except there is not as much milk in the beverage. The mixture is more 3 parts coffee and 1 part milk. The macchiato comes in both hot and cold options.
Specialty Coffees in Greece
Since Greece is the only country I can personally speak for, I do want to mention Greek coffee and frappes. Greek coffee is unique to the country and to me was a lot stronger than an espresso. It is a bold flavor similar to that of a dark roast. It will be served very similar to an espresso in a small cup. The rinds will be at the bottom of the cup, so be prepared! If you do not like slightly bitter coffee, do not order this beverage. It does a great job at kick starting your day, however!
The Greeks love to make frappes as an instant coffee drink with water and sugar. It is served over ice and it perfect for a hot summer day. This is the drink I would recommend as an afternoon treat if you need your afternoon caffeine fix. Milk is optional and you can ask for it to be sweetened. Depending on the cafe, your frappe may even come with whipped cream on top. See what others at the cafe are drinking.
Paying for Your Coffee
Starting with a price point, a coffee based beverage typically doesn’t cost more than 2 Euros. Smaller cafes will have you go inside and order your coffee. Feel free to look at all the displays as you wait. I found that I often did not need to pay for my coffee until the beverage was ready. It depends on where you are. Some cafes that are outdoors may have a server take your order and not give you the bill until you are finished.
You may have two options in this case. Either go up to the cashier at the end of your coffee experience, or wave down the server when you are done. Unlike the US, the server will not baby sit you and stop by to see how you are doing. They want you to be left alone in peace.
Lastly, have cash handy! Many cafes do not like debit or credit cards for small bills and will expect you to pay cash (unless you are in a very touristy area). When you pay cash, also ensure you have some coins or smaller bills. If it’s earlier in the day they don’t have a lot of change to give out yet.
Enjoy the Experience
You will make mistakes when you order coffee, but that’s part of the fun of trying new things on vacation or on your travels. I highly encourage you to branch out of chains like Pete’s Coffee or Starbucks and try a local spot. You’ll be surprised at how much you may enjoy the atmosphere. You’ll have a whole new perspective on coffee going forward! Until next time, happy travels.