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Italian Language Lessons: Caffe Talk
This section covers the language basics of ordering espresso drinks with accompanying pastries at a caffe.
The Italian caffe is easily found by looking for a sign which includes one of the words "caffe" or "bar". Usually, these casual gathering spots are fairly easy to find; even small villages generally have one or two. The ordering procedure varies somewhat depending on the establishment.
While some caffe have waiters who will take your order as you sit at a table and others require you to order and pay in advance at the cash register, most commonly you will order at the bar, either consume your order at the bar or carry it to a table and pay when you are ready to leave (which may be after you have gone back to order additional items).
See our section Italy - Food/Restaurants - Caffes for detailed information on ordering, paying and with a sample menu.
Starting Your Order
The waiter or bartender will say one of the following to you:
Ordering Coffee Drinks
The basic coffee drink is espresso, the strong Italian coffee served in a small espresso cup. Some handy phrases for ordering:
These are some things you can order:
To add another item to your order:
Use "ancora" if you return for more; e.g. ancora due caffe.
To order more than one of something, you will need to know how to say the number and the plural word for what you are ordering. The following phrases describe two of the same items as above; for more on numbers see the Italian Counts section.
These are the plurals of things you can order.
Coffee and a sweet pastry constitute the standard Italian breakfast. If pastries are available, they will usually be on display at the counter. Some pertinent phrases:
The cornetto is a commonly available breakfast pastry, often described as the "Italian croissant". The French word "croissant" is usually understood.
Pasta is a more generic term, literally, paste or dough. The "noodles" type of pasta is referenced by the same word but with a "some" type quantity (della pasta) rather than a "number of" type quantity (una pasta). Brioche is also commonly used to refer to a sweet pastry item (including a cornetto with sugary icing).
And to order more than one:
The cornettos may or may not have a filling.
"Senza niente" literally means "without nothing". The double negative is jarring to English speakers, but is OK in spoken Italian.
Selecting the right one:
Concluding Your Order
At this point, the following phrases may be used.
When you are done and wish to leave, you must usually return to the bar counter to pay. When you again have the bartenders attention, you indicate you wish to pay, hope the bartender remembers what you had (but if not, list the items) and pay the amount the bartender calculates. Remember to use the tray near the cash register to place your money and receive any change - money is not handed directly.
Usually, you will get a printed receipt. If not and you don't understand the amount when spoken in Italian, have it written down as a last resort.
A complete sample dialog follows. You are ordering coffee and pastry for yourself and one other person.
We use a voice synthesizer program to generate the audio dialogs, but for this one we have "real voices"! Carlo Curino and Matteo Giani from Milan recorded our dialog and sent us the file. Carlo is the voice of the customer, Matteo the waiter.
Right click on the link below to download the MP3 file, then play on your computer as you read this dialog. (mp3 file, 739kb)
Right click to
download MP3 soundtrack
The bartender hands over pastries and makes the coffees.
You take the coffees and pastries to a table and enjoy them, then return to pay before leaving.
The price was 1.20 euro for each espresso and 1.50 euro each for the pastries - more expensive because you were sitting outside. Inside, the espresso costs only 70 cents each.
I have included our original voice synthesizer audio file here. This file
is larger (739kb).
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