Breaking the International Coffee Commandments

Today’s guest post is by Valerie Sisco of the blog Grace with Silk, and the Culture With Travel Food Correspondent.

American CoffeeI faithfully set my automatic coffeemaker every night so I can wake up to the aroma of fresh coffee in the morning. I head out the door with a to-go cup in hand, and sometimes I even grab another cup at the Starbucks in my office plaza. So traveling internationally brews up a host of coffee complexities for me.

Not only is my standard coffee shop order of I’ll-have-a-large-coffee-to-go-please nonexistent when I travel abroad, I also worry about committing a serious breach of coffee etiquette. So when I discovered an article on how to order and drink coffee like an Italian, I thought it might be especially helpful for an upcoming trip to Rome where I hear Romans are quite passionate about their coffee.

ItalyCoffeeBox international coffee

There were so many rules to remember, but at the top of the list of thou-shalt-nots was to never ask for a to-go cup or even worse, never take a pastry out to the street since walking with coffee and eating was to risk being branded a rube of a tourist.

With a bit of a shock I realized I’ve already committed these egregious blunders. And they still let me roam around Italy.

GHVSItalyCoffee international coffee

On my first day in Milan last summer I walked into a coffee shop displaying a sign for take-away cups. I asked for my coffee in one and instead of laughing at me, the server nicely nodded and made my coffee.

I envisioned a generous Starbucks-esque cup but was disappointed to discover that the cup was thimble-sized, fit more for a doll than a girl who desperately needed an extra-large java jolt. I had no idea I was committing a more considerable coffee crime when I sat on the curb in front of the Duomo to eat my chocolate croissant and drink my tiny cup of coffee before my tour started.

If I was indeed breaking the coffee commandments, then I wasn’t alone since the crowd of tourists waiting with me for the morning tour were doing the same thing I was.

PouredCoffee international coffee

When I moved on to Bellagio for the next leg of my Italy trip, the server at my hotel kindly brought me a silver pot of black coffee every morning with a little pitcher of cream, but on the last day she asked if she could make me an American-style latte. When I agreed, she set it in front of me, eager to know if I liked it. Even though it was lukewarm and I would have preferred my hot black coffee with a splash of cream, I thought it was awfully nice of her to give it her best shot.

I think the adventure of ordering, waiting to see what you get and enjoying the process are all just part of the charm of drinking coffee while traveling.

ParisBreakfastShop international coffee

During a trip to Paris a few years ago, I started my mornings at a little street-side cafe where the owner did his best to accommodate my coffee requests. He was friendly and filled fairly large to-go cups for me, even serving me a giant cup of coffee in a ceramic mug that he invited me to drink inside his cafe on my last day there {at no extra charge}.

DelmasCoffeeParis international coffee

I’m just not sure it’s entirely possible not to look like a tourist when you’re traveling.

I live in Orlando, Florida, one of the top tourist destinations in the U.S. and we locals can spot a tourist a mile away. They attempt to cross streets no local would dare navigate, they drive their rental cars through express pass toll lanes, and they dress in athletic shoes and colorful T-shirts even when they aren’t at the theme parks.

But we shrug and put up with their slight annoyances because we appreciate their contribution to our local economy through their visit. And really, what’s so bad about looking like a tourist?

I’m not going to worry about how I order my coffee in Rome. Because I’m pretty sure how I drink my coffee won’t be the only way the Italians will know I’m an American tourist.

Valerie Sisco writes the blog Grace with Silk. She lives in Orlando, Florida, where she’s dreaming of her next travel adventure. Follow her journeys via Twitter, Facebook and Instagram

10 thoughts on “Breaking the International Coffee Commandments

  1. And now, I’m craving a “flat white” from Wellington’s Cuba Street. And yes, I’d like my banana bread warmed, and yes, I’ll have butter with that; thank you …

  2. Oh goodness, after reading this I am especially homesick for Paris and a table at a sidewalk cafe with a steaming cup of strong coffee!

  3. As one of those past tourist in your home town, Valerie, I had to smile on how you spot us! Next time I won’t be wearing colourful running shoes but may still be sporting my favourite Disney hat. Lol! All the pictures are amazing, and you’ve made me think to research etiquette of coffee for the destination, period, the next time I travel. Getting into how the locals do coffee could add to the adventure! Thanks for enlightening me by sharing your story.

    1. Hi Lynn, thanks for sharing that take and stopping by the blog! 🙂 I, too, learned a lot about coffee etiquette. One thing that’s wonderful about travel is the ability to sit down at a cafe, too, and just enjoy and sip coffee. At home, things can be rushed and hectic. Thanks again for sharing. 🙂

  4. This is hilarious! It reminds me of my time in Florence, when we saw the locals eating pizza out of a box looking out into the city square. We decided to join them with our own box and it was one of the most enjoyable meals we had there!

    1. Hey Brittany! Thanks for sharing that moment 🙂 Sorry about the delay in posting your comment – never got a notification for it somehow, but so glad you stopped by and shared your experience in Florence!

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