> SlowTrav > Italy > Food/Restaurants/Cafes > Cafes

Understanding the Caffe Menu

Pauline Kenny

Price list at Bar Gallo, Panicale, Umbria. 09/03

This photo is of a typical caffe menu (listino prezzi - price list) in Italy. The basic prices are set by the government and the price list must be on display near the bar. The prices on the menu are for having the items while standing at the bar; there can be an additional charge to have items at a table. (Click the photo to see a larger version of this menu.)

Cheaper to stand at the bar

In some caffes, if you have table service, the price increases (look for servizo al tavolo - table service - on the price list). It may cost 0.50 euro more per drink to sit outside and have your drink (in my opinion, well worth it). If you are in a major tourist area (e.g. Il Campo in Siena or St. Marks Square in Venice), this premium can be a lot higher.

About this example menu

The menu in this photo hangs on the wall in Bar Gallo in Panicale, Umbria. This page lists and translates each item on the menu. Prices are listed in euro (€) using a comma where Americans would put a period. E.g. 1,50 is one euro and 50 cents.

Cafftteria (Coffee drinks)

For a basic cup of espresso, simply order "un caffe" (pronounced: oon kahf-FEH). You might want to say "un caffe espresso" so they know for sure you want an espresso; sometimes when tourists order coffee, they think you want an American-style coffee (if this actually is what you want, ask for "un caffe americano").

Order a caffe espresso or a cappuccino or, as I do, a caffe macchiato. If you are a real coffee lover, like me, you will love the rich, dark espresso. And, even though it is very small, you get quite a jolt from the caffeine.

  • Caffe Espresso - (0,70) one shot of strong, dark espresso. Served in a small cup. If you want it weaker, ask for a caff lungo - a long coffee. They will add more water to the espresso. They may ask if you want a caffe americano. This will have a lot more water and is very weak.
  • Caffe Corretto - (0,90) a shot of liqueur (usually whisky or grappa) is added to your espresso to "correct" it. Ever since I read about this in a Michael Dibdin detective novel (the Aurelio Zen mysteries are set in Italy), I wanted to have one. I finally worked up my nerve to try it when we were in Rome in 2001. I didn't like it. I like Grappa and I like espresso, but I didn't like them together!
  • Caffe Hag - (0,75) decaffeinated coffee (made by Kraft), pronounced "ahg". This is a brand name and is commonly used to request decaffeinated coffee.
  • Latte - (0,80) milk. I don't drink much milk, so I have never tried this. Faith Willinger says it is hot milk served in a glass. You may ask for it cold.
  • Cappuccino - (0,80) one shot of espresso topped with hot milk and foam. The term cappuccino refers to the brown and white colors of the robes of the Capuchin monks. In some areas, a cappuccino is called a cappuccio.
  • Cioccolato - (1,30) a cup of hot chocolate. I finally had a cioccolato in Rome around Christmas, 2003. In the winter the caffes have hot chocolate machines at the bar. The hot chocolate is very thick and not that sweet (you can add sugar). You can pay extra to have real whipped cream on top. Delicious - but very rich.
  • Th - (0,80) a cup of hot tea (the French word "th" is often used instead of the Italian word "t", pronounced approximately the same)
  • Camomilla - (0,80) a cup of chamomile tea (herbal).
  • Punc - (1,30) Punch (we presume)

Not on the menu above, but these coffee items are also available at caffes:

  • Caffe Decaffinato - decaffeinated coffee (commonly called by the brand name "Caffe Hag")
  • Caffe Macchiato - I find a cappuccino is too milky for me, so I order a caffe macchiato, which literally means "stained coffee". This is one shot of espresso with just a touch of milk. It is not always listed on the menu, but is commonly ordered. It is the same price as an espresso.
  • Caffe d'Orzo - barley coffee, a non-caffeine coffee substitute (not actually coffee). Can be ordered in a small cup (tazza piccola) or large cup (tazza grande). Some caffes have a machine to make this, but some places just open a package, pour it in the cup and add hot water. You can also have a Cappuccino d'Orzo.
  • Tisana - herbal tea. Some caffes have a selection of herbal teas.
  • Caffe Shakerato - An iced and sweetened espresso drink. Great for summertime.

Aperitivi (Aperitifs)

Aperitifs are appetite-stimulating beverages ordered at a caffe before dinner. Some are low in alcohol content, some have no alcohol. They are usually served with snacks - peanuts, chips or something like that. Most Italians do not drink cocktails before a meal, they drink aperitifs.

Order the type of aperitif that you like or, if you don't know what to order, the "aperitivo della casa" (house aperitif). Campari is a popular alcoholic aperitif. It is very bitter but refreshing. You can ask for campari and soda. I remember the first time I ordered a campari soda at Caffe Gilli in the Piazza della Republica in Florence - I felt so European! I have seen some campari drinks that come in small bottles with the campari and soda already mixed.

  • Aperitivi - (1,30) aperitives. This probably represents any of the available standard choices.
  • Aperitivi di Marca - (1,60) brand name aperitif - higher quality
  • Amari - (1,30) "any of numerous after-dinner liqueurs, ranging from the mildly bitter to the near-poisons, like FERNET-BRANCA. Italians sip these after meals in the belief that they aid the digestion." (from "Dictionary of Italian Cuisine")
  • Whisky - (2,10) whisky

Not on the menu above, but these aperitif items are also available at caffes:

  • Aperitivo della Casa - the house aperitif. Nearly every caff has a house aperitif and they are all different. They usually come in a pretty glass (sometimes a Martini-style glass) with accompanying small snacky things and are fun to order. On a recent trip we decided to fully investigate this drink and ordered them in several different caffes. No two were alike and only one caffe said they didn't have a house aperitif (but they had other suggestions).
  • Aperitivi Analcolico - nonalcoholic aperitif

Liquori (Liqueurs)

Some drinks are referred to as "digestives"; these are drinks taken after a meal to promote good digestion. You either have this at the restaurant, after your dessert, along with your espresso or you go to your local caffe on the way home and have a last drink.

  • Liquorinnaz - (1,30) Domestic liqueurs
  • Brandy - (1,30) brandy
  • Brandy Riserva - (1,95) Reserve Brandy - higher quality
  • Liquori Estero - (2,10) imported liqueurs
  • Cognac - (2,10) cognac
  • Grappe - (1,80) grappa is a wonderful drink, like a schnapps, made from grapes. It is clear and strong. One time when we were in the swimming pool at a vacation rental in Chianti, a young American man traveling with his wife and children was asking us all kinds of questions (because this was our second trip and it was only his first). He asked "What's the deal with grappa?" I don't know why, but we loved this question and repeat it to each other frequently when in Italy.

Vin (Wine)

  • Vermouth - (1,30) vermouth
  • Vinsanto - (1,30) a sweet dessert wine. You will see vinsanto e cantucci on dessert menus. These are small hard cookies that come with a glass of vinsanto. You dunk the cookies in the vinsanto. A wonderful dessert. I had my first one of these for dessert at lunch time, sitting on the terrace of the restaurant at Badia A Coltibuono, the wine and olive oil estate near Radda in Chianti. In a caffe, you would get a glass of vinsanto to drink (probably no cantucci).
  • Vino al Bicchiere - (1,00) wine by the glass. I think letters are missing on the menu.
  • Marsala - (1,30) a type of wine from Sicily
  • Porto - (1,30) port

Not on the menu above, but these items are also available at caffes:

  • Vino Comune, Bianco, Rosso - table wine (presumably local), white or red

Bibite (Drinks)

  • Birra Grande - (2,60) large glass of beer
  • Birra Piccola - (1,30) small glass of beer
  • Birra Estera - (2,10) imported beer
  • Bibite Lattina - (1,30) soft drinks (e.g. Coke) in a can
  • Bibite Bottiglia - (1,30) soft drinks in a bottle
  • Spremute - (1,30) freshly squeezed fruit juice
  • Sciroppi - (1,30) syrup - maybe this is one of those drinks made with Italian sweet syrup
  • Succo di Frutta - (0,95) fruit juice, usually from a bottle or can
  • Cedrata - (1,30) citron-based soft drink
  • Gassosa - (1,00) the name of a lemon-flavored fizzy drink
  • Prosecco - (1,50) a champagne-like sparkling white wine. This is commonly ordered as an aperitif.

Not on the menu above, but these items are also available at caffes:

  • Birre Spina  - draft beer (or on the tap)
  • Birre Nazionale - beer from Italy, sometimes available in a can (lattina)
  • Acqua Minerale - bottled water. You get this by the glass. Ask for plain (naturale) or with gas (con gas or gasata, frizzante for lightly sparkling).
  • Cocktails - American-style cocktails. An americano is a popular cocktail made with Campari.
  • Long Drink

Food Things

Most caffes offer snack type food items or a light lunch or a mid-day snack.

  • Paste - (0,80) pastry, usually for breakfast and displayed at the counter
  • Panini - (1,30) sandwiches, usually displayed at the counter

Not on the menu above, but these items are also available at caffes:

  • Pizza - a slice of pizza for a snack. They will warm it up for you.
  • Panini Caldi - hot sandwiches
  • Dolci al cucci - desserts

Other Things Found in Caffes (but not on this menu)

In many caffes you will find other things not listed on the menu. For example, this caffe has a gelato bar near the front door.

  • Ice cream - frequently there will be a small freezer full of ice cream bars. There will be a sign on the freezer or nearby showing you the different types of ice creams. You open the freezer and take what you want.
  • Gelato - many caffes also have gelato
  • Caffe Freddo - iced coffee, usually served with lots of sugar. We ordered one in Florence once and it was more of an ice cream float.
  • Aranciata - orange carbonated drink
  • Cynar - an aperitif made from artichokes. Also used as a digestive.
  • Crodino - nonalcholic fizzy bitters, in a little bottle
  • San Pellegrino Bitter - nonalcoholic fizzy bitters, in a little bottle

Recommended Books

Book: Maureen B. Fant and Howard M. Isaacs, Dictionary of Italian Cuisine, The Ecco Press, 1998

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