Start your day in true European fashion with an Italian breakfast of espresso and a sweet brioche. In this guide, we explain what you can expect on your plate in Italy!
Wouldn’t it be great to start every morning with sweets and treats? In Italy, it’s a norm to eat biscuits and pastries for breakfast and pair it with a delicious coffee drink.
In this post, you will learn a few things about traditional Italian breakfasts foods. We’ll also explain what Italians eat for breakfast, the different coffees served, and the coffee culture in Italy.
What Do Italians Eat for Breakfast
If you are used to eating savory American breakfast foods like scrambled eggs and pancakes with a side of bacon, you will not find it on an Italian family’s kitchen table.
A typical Italian breakfast is sweet and consists of a sweet pastry with coffee or cappuccino, a latte for teens, and milk for tiny ones.
Italians are not used to eating a lot in the morning. They typically eat something very small and sweet. Breakfast may be a creme-filled brioche, a cornetto, or something simpler like jam and bread.
Brioche and cornetto are synonymous with croissants, but their use depends on the region. In the northern parts of Italy, like Milan, you will hear the term brioche, whereas in southern parts of Italy, like Rome, the term cornetto is more common.
Many European hotels offer a continental breakfast to satisfy guests and broadly meet tourists’ expectations.
For example, an international breakfast may consist of an omelet, bread with jam, juice, and coffee. A London breakfast may consist of a croissant with jam (or burro, which is Italian for butter), fruit, and choice of coffee, Caffe latte (milk coffee), or tea.
Breakfast bars at Italian hotels may include scrambled and/or boiled eggs, slices of meat, yogurt, bread, vegetables, a selection of fruits and cheese, along with local fare. But they will always have traditional Italian breakfast foods.
But do Italians ever cook their breakfast in the morning? According to Giacinto, “You can’t eat a continental breakfast and call yourself Italian. It is not our way”.
So, skip the omelet, hash browns, and sausage. When in Rome, do as the Romans do and eat a traditional Italian breakfast at least once!
What is Italian Coffee
A caffè, or caffè normale (pronounced nor-mal-lay), is a normal coffee in Italian. This drink is for people who like espresso, a small cup of dark, rich, flavorful coffee.
You can add cream and sugar to suit your taste. Most find espresso to be quite strong for their palette.
A caffè doppio (doh-pee-yoh) is a double shot of espresso in one cup. These are not very common and it’s ordered when feeling extra tired.
A more common request is a long coffee or caffè lungho (loon-goh). It is a shot of espresso with a bit extra — think of it as one and a half shots of espresso.
A caffè macchiato is an espresso with a dash of warm milk. Another version is a caffè macchiato freddo (fray-doh), which is an espresso with a dash of cold milk.
The most famous Italian coffee in the world is cappuccino. It is steamed milk with a shot of espresso and topped with lots of foam.
Italians drink this for breakfast only. Ordering and drinking cappuccino after Noon is frowned upon, but some restaurants might oblige you.
Latte macchiato is warm milk with a hint of coffee. It is like a cappuccino but has more milk.
If you are not accustomed to drinking espresso, try the Americano. It is a taller, weaker coffee made to appease American palettes.
If you want decaffeinated coffee, add the word decaffeinato (dee-caf-in-ah-toh) at the end of the coffee order.
Coffee Culture in Italy
If you love coffee, I mean, really love espresso, you are in the right country and you should visit a cafe for Italian coffee.
But if you are used to sitting down with a freshly brewed cup and sipping leisurely, you won’t find this in Italy. My first experience at a coffee bar was quicker than the blink of an eye.
At the time, I was with a native who ordered two Italian espressos. She added a package of sugar, drank it in three seconds flat, and was ready to leave.
The notion of savoring a cup is not a cultural habit in Italy. The coffee is rich, tasty, and quickly consumed.
Also, drinking a cappuccino after Noon or late in the day is like having a vodka cocktail at 8:00 AM (obviously, not with the same effect).
In their culture, it is considered a breakfast-only item. And while some restaurants will accommodate tourists in the afternoon, the waiter is probably grinding his teeth as he places the cup and saucer on the table.
Final Thoughts on an Italian Breakfast
I won’t lie, before my return trip to Rome I was petrified about eating sweets for breakfast because I had been very health conscious and dropped a few pounds. I could feel myself caving into eating sweets for breakfast and eating that second pastry.
Learning the foods that Italians like to eat was interesting to me. I met with a few Italian friends and had a wondering time exploring the Trastevere neighborhood and sampling street food. With a few essential Italian phrases, I even ordered some meals in Italian.
I think eating sweets for an Italian breakfast is ok. In retrospect, I needed it to power through the day on foot, on a bike, and while touring. So, there’s no need to feel guilty about it. Go ahead and have another chocolate croissant!