My love affair with Rome didn’t percolate below the surface while eyeing travel photos or hearing second-hand stories. Our relationship began ten years ago upon arrival into Fiumicino, the Rome airport, as a love-at-first-sight obsession. The food, fashion and culture fit like a well-tailored, brightly colored blazer. And the coffee. Oh the coffee! Strong, acidic, bitter or sweet, palate cleansing, satisfying. The coffee tradition is beautifully executed with intention. For a country that is, let’s say… flexible, with rules, coffee has order. Your beverage will always be presented via ceramic cup and saucer with a strategically placed, perfectly sized spoon. Sugar is either located on the saucer or in a large bowl filled with individually sized packets. The single espresso greets its imbiber topped with soft crema. Rich cappuccinos arrive warmed but never scalded! Macchiatos act as a mini cappuccino, begging for a sprinkling of zuccero (sugar). If you stand at the counter, your drink will cost .90-1.40 euros. If you sit at a cafe table, double or triple the price for il tavolo (the table), but stay as long as you’d like. Stopping into a bar (Americans know it as a cafe) will require only moments to order, drink and pay. Locals and confident tourists chat with the company while gobbling a morning cornetto (an Italian style croissant) in four bites. It’s glorious!
Below is my advice for ordering coffee in Rome and where to do it! Note, this article was written in 2016.
If you’re confused about what to order, here are three drinks you need to know:
Un caffe = literally translates to “a coffee” but Italians will know it as espresso; add sugar if you prefer.
Cappuccino = espresso with steamed milk to the perfect temperature (not too hot); order only in the morning before noon. In this land, you have no milk preference or desired added favors; this is a no-nonsense habit.
Macchiato = espresso and a dollop of frothy milk, a petite version of a cappuccino. This is the workaround for those who need a little latte (milk) in their midday caffe (espresso).
When ordering you need to say it as if you’ve lived here all your life. “UN CAFFE!” If you mutter or feel embarrassed, a barista will act like you’ve attempted Chinese instead of Italian. If needed, practice in the mirror a few times. Finally, if you’re traveling alone, “un cappuccino” will get you one cappuccino, but if you’re with friends, the following numbers apply.
1 = un
2 = due
3 = tre
4 = quattro
Now… where to go? My favorite neighborhoods in Rome are Trastevere and Monteverde, just across the Tiber river. It’s said to be where locals live. You’ll be more apt to find legit coffee spots with superb cornetti, senza (without) tourist menus.
Via Porta Settimiana 1
It doesn’t look like much from the inside, but grab an early morning spot at this coveted bar and you’ll see everyone from the postman to the savvy professor dropping in for un cappuccino. On a Saturday morning, I was joined by a handful of middle aged locals piping music through their phone and discussing bands over man-bags and espresso. The pastries are traditionally delightful and the company is always fun. Caffe Settimiano is located at an amazing five-way stop. In the afternoon order an Aperol Spritz during aperitivo and watch fashionable locals greet each other after work and zoom around on scooters.
Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè
Neighborhood: Sant’Eustachio, blocks from the Pantheon
Piazza Sant’Eustachio, 82
Sant’Eustachio Il Caffè has been a Roman institution since 1938. Their secret blend of 100% Arabica beans is roasted on site and sold alongside a dozen Italian treats. Brothers Raimondo and Roberto Ricci, roasters and owners, caffeinate locals and tired tourists each day beginning at 8:30am.
Piazza Dei Ponziani, 1a
If you’re in need of a pick-me-up, bite or aperitivo, Terra Satis has you covered. It’s located in Piazza Dei Ponziani, blocks from Ponte Palatino. Sit on the patio under live greenery or join the locals in a friendly chat at the bar, either way you’re on Roman turf.
Le Cafe Vert
Via Anton Giulio Barrili 47
A hip gem nestled outside Rome’s historical center, the Monteverde neighborhood is quieter and substantially greener. Monteverde translates to “Green Mountain”. Le Cafe Vert offers a superb caffe alongside all the treats: pastries, panini, insalada and aperitivo snacks. In the evening, peruse a rotating artisanal beer list and people watch seated at a curbside table.
Piazza Trilussa 34
This place feels a little touristy, but the coffee is great and it’s the perfect stop preceding Trastevere; it’s located just across the bridge from Ponte Sisto. If you’re popping in for a quick sip and standing at the bar, pay first at the cashier on the right. Take your receipt to the barista at the bar and they’ll prepare your desired caffeinated beverage.