Earlier this summer I was fortunate enough to visit Italy for the first time, spending about two weeks total in Venice, Florence, and Rome. Of the three cities Venice was wonderful but unfortunately quite lacking in the overall food and drink quality — including espresso — though I highly recommend visiting Venice regardless.
On the other hand, Florence and Rome have cafes serving good quality food and espresso on almost every corner. Surprisingly, even the most run down looking cafes almost always beat my expectations, particularly when it came to espresso.
Clearly, Italians care a great deal about their coffee — and it shows.
While many Italians speak at least some English they may be confused if you order “espresso.” In Italy the default way of preparing coffee is espresso, so just order a “caffè,” which means “coffee.” I found this out the hard way after getting a lot of blank stares.
If you want an espresso prepared the same way as you’d get at any American third-wave espresso cafe, order a “doppio ristretto” which is literally translated as “double tight”, but in English we’d say “double short.” If you just order a “doppio” or “double,” it’s going to be a little watery compared to what us Americans are used to.
The average cost these days for an espresso in Italy is about one euro per shot. In addition to the espresso, some places will also include a small glass of sparkling water, like many contemporary cafes in the US often do.
Oh, and one last practical matter: public bathrooms in Italy are few and far between, but I found that most cafes will let you use theirs if you order anything. That’s a tip every tourist should know, whether they like espresso or not.