Espresso, Latte, Cappuccino...oh my!

For those of you who are interested in bringing a bit of your Italian coffee drinking experiences back home with you below is our beginner's guide on how to get started making delicious Italian coffee drinks at home. Ofcourse, as with anything, our recommendations are merely that - recommendations and based upon our own drinking experiences. We understand everyone will have their own preferences and encourage readers to share their insight, experiences and advice on this subject matter below in the comments section.

Buying an espresso machine is essential to making a delicious cappuccino, caffe Latte or espresso shot.  We recommend starting out with a basic-level espresso maker such as the Delonghi EC155 Espresso Maker. This espresso machine is both compact and high in quality for the price ($99 at the time of this post!). In our experience, this espresso machine gives consistently good shots time after time and can accept both ground beans or E.S.E. pods (tea-bag like bags containing ground espresso). This espresso maker has gotten excellent reviews and bests many other machines and brands that are much more expensive.

A tamper is a very important tool to have in order to pack in the espresso into the filter holder. About 30lbs of pressure is necessary to apply in order to correctly prepare the espresso grind in the filter. It is possible to purchase a tamper in any major retail shop that sells cookware and coffee appliances. The prices range from $3 - $100+.(**The EC155 mentioned above has it's own built-in tamper which is a very nice convenience).

While it is possible to steam/froth milk in any type of pitcher we recommend purchasing a 12oz stainless steel frothing pitcher as this better enables you to gauge the frothing temperature while steaming your milk. The frothing pitcher also will facilitate cappuccino/latte artistry. A 12oz stainless steel frothing pitcher will generally run you about $10.

For coffee purists, it is absolutely essential to buy a coffee bean grinder that grinds evenly and can be adjustable for different types of grind (espresso, coffee, drip, french press, percolator, etc.). There are many to choose from and some grinders can be very expensive. It is possible to purchase grinders that rely on manual grinding or grinders that can be run electrically. We started out with a basic coffee grinder by Braun which has proven to be adequate for our drip coffee maker but not so great for our percolator and our french press. Our 2nd coffee grinder purchase was the Bodum Bistro Electric Burr Cofee Grinder which has proven to be excellent for both the money and quality and we highly recommend this for the novice coffee makers.

This certainly is a matter of preference. Some people prefer to purchase their coffee pre-ground while others like to buy the beans and then grind them at home. Buying coffee pre-ground is undoubtedly convenient but we believe you are sacrificing some freshness by doing this. Purchasing a coffee grinder like the one above and grinding coffee beans at home is one way to ensure freshness. Also remember to keep your coffee in the freezer to help insure longevity.

Like wine, bourbon, beer, whiskey and other fine drinks, we believe that coffee should also be consumed or served in certain types of glasses.

Typically, you want an espresso cup that is the size of a shot glass. An espresso cup, however, can range in size and hold anywhere between 1.5oz - 8oz depending upon your preference and serving amount. There are many brands of espresso cups and two of our favorites are Illy and Bodum. We love Illy because of the Italy brand name (we feel like we're back in the piazza when we have an Illy cup in our hand) and Bodum because of the double walled hand-blown glasses that keep both hot and cold liquids at their respective temperatures while staying cool to the touch (no coasters necessary!).

Typically, you want a cappuccino cup to be larger then an espresso glass and hold at least 8oz of liquid. Any type of 8oz cup will do as long as it is suitable for hot beverages. Again, our preference is the Illy brand or Bodum brand (8oz size) for the reasons mentioned previously.

Milk is an important ingredient for most coffee-lovers and it is important to have on-hand the correct type of milk for each type of coffee drink and for each type of guest. We believe that skim milk is best for lattes and cappuccinos as it seems to froth up better and leave less residue.

Again, this is a matter of preference but we enjoy making coffee and espresso from all types of coffee beans from around the world. Italian dark roast seems especially good (and strong) as an espresso shot. Jamaica Blue Mountain is a huge luxury but well worth the try. If you're adventurous try Kopi Luwak from Indonesia (also found in Vietnam and the Fillippines). Having said this, the Illy brand always seems to work for espresso for us. For Cappuccinos you might want to try a medium roast to remove the bitterness. 



1. Place ground espresso into filter
2. Turn on espresso machine and wait for temperature to reach suitable heat level
3. Pull espresso shot
4. 1 pack/teaspoon of sugar optional
5. Done and enjoy!

**Tips - make sure to firmly pack the espresso ground into the filter. Some practice may be necessary to get the correct amount and packing. Make sure no coffee grinds are on the rim of the filter. Periodically clean the filter.


1. Make an espresso shot as described above
2. Froth about 6oz of skim milk in a stainless steal frothing pitcher.
3. Poor espresso into a cappuccino cup.
4. Poor about 3/4" of frothed milk on top of the espresso shot.
5. Sugar optional.
6. Done and enjoy!

**Tips - Frothing milk can be tricky at first. If you can't seem to get your milk steamed or frothed as desired try angling the pitcher, changing the depth of the frothing tube, using less/more milk or changing the type of milk used. Also, if you see excessive bubbles after frothing just bang the bottom of your pitcher lightly on the table to get rid of them. When you get good enough try making art in your froth!


1. Make an espresso shot as described above
2. Froth about 6oz of skim milk in a stainless steal frothing pitcher.
3. Poor espresso into a cappuccino cup.
4. Poor about 1/2 glass steamed milk and 1/2" of frothed milk on top of that.
5. Sugar optional.

6. Done and enjoy!


1. Make an espresso shot and pour into a coffee mug.
2. Add hot water to desired tasted.
3. 1 pack/teaspoon of sugar optional

4. Done and enjoy!

****We hope to add how-to videos shortly!

Italian Coffee Drinks

Coffee is a popular drink in Italy and is typically ordered in the form of an espresso shot. The espresso shot is served at a bar where it is imbibed while standing and is generally finished off in 3 sips or less. Italian espresso is usually very strong. (***Keep in mind that sitting at a table will not only cost you nearly double the price of a regular espresso but it will also signal you out as a "tourist".)

While espresso remains the most popular type of coffee drink in Italy, there are many other types of coffee drinks one can order while in Italy. It is also possible to order a Cafe Americano, Caffe Latte or Cappuccino. 

Espresso - Consists of about 1.5-2.0 oz of concentrated beverage brewed by forcing a small amount of nearly boiling water under pressure through finely ground coffee beans.

Caffè Americano - Adding hot water to an espresso shot giving it a different flavor from a coffee made by a drip coffee maker.

Caffè Latte - Consists of one espresso shot, 1/2 glass of steamed milk and topped off with 1/2" inch thick milk foam.  In Italy, caffelatte is almost always prepared at home, for breakfast only. The coffee is brewed with a stovetop Moka Pot and poured into a cup containing heated milk. (Unlike the international latte drink, the milk in the Italian original is not foamed.). The drink is similar to a cappuccino the difference being that a cappuccino consists of espresso and steamed milk with a 20 mm (¾ inch) layer of thick milk foam.

Cappuccino -  Consists of espresso and steamed milk with a 20mm (¾ inch) layer of thick milk foam.

Certainly one thing we enjoy most when going to Italy is having a delicious morning cappuccino in a piazza of a small town while watching people, Vespas and other vehicles pass by. Customarily, a cappuccino (or any coffee drink with milk for that matter) is consumed anytime before 11am. Many restaurants/bars will and do make exceptions after 11am but there are stories of patrons in smaller towns who have been served reluctantly or denied their requests. However, we have never had any experience with being denied a latte or cappuccino at any time of the day so we're inclined to believe this is more myth then truth.

When you go to Italy be sure to try one or all of the coffee drinks mentioned above!

Destination: Umbertide

 C O M U N E    D I    U M B E R T I D E

Formerly known as Fratta but later changed to Umbertide (after Prince Umberto), the Comune di Umbertide has transformed itself from a small rural environ of Perugia to a bustling, hip - but still off the beaten path - town with excellent restaurants, contemporary & modern art museums and a growing commercial shopping area. Many Italians come to visit the town and the multitude of little hamlets that surround it and it has become quite popular with celebrities such as Ralph Fiennes, Colin Firth and Monica Bellucci.

Umbertide can easily be reached by many modes of transportation. By car, simply take the E45 and get off at the Umbertide/Gubbio exit. If you are traveling by train, it is possible to catch an FCU train from Perugia to the center of Umbertide or you can take a train to Terontola (an environ of Cortona) which is about 45 minutes away by car.

Map of Umbertide (click picture to enlarge)

Here is just a brief overview of some of the main attractions one can find in Umbertide:
  • the castle of Civitella Ranieri, 5 km (3 mi) NE, one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in Umbria.
  • the abbey of S. Salvatore di Montecorona 4 km (2.5 mi) S, which has a beautiful eleventh‑century crypt with early Romanesque capitals and naïve 18th century painted ceilings.
  • the medieval castle of Polgeto
  • the abbey church of S. Bartolomeo de' Fossi, sited on a sharp ridge with distant views on either side
  • the walled medieval village of  Borgo Santa Guiliana
  • Chiesa della Collegiata (church)
  • La Rocca (modern & contemporary art museum)
  • Re-designed area below La Rocca which includes a new footbridge and other changes to make the town more aesthetic and accessible.

The official website for the Comune di Umbertide can be found HERE and is a great resource for all of the latest information and news on everything going on in Umbertide.

You can find more detailed information about town of Umbertide in our section Altabella: A slice of Tuscumbrian Paradise.

Umbertide is a very nice town to visit if you are passing through the area or stopping over for a couple of nights. The historical part of Umbertide (we call "Old Umbertide") has a very beautiful old piazza where many of the locals like to hang out having drinks, playing cards, shopping at the outdoor market or catching a summer concert. There are many very good restaurants and places to shop. In the evenings it is not difficult to find something interesting going on.

Our son playing with his car while kids pass by on their bicycles

Posing for a picture in the main piazza
If you walk just outside the main piazza it is possible to find two major landmarks, The Rocca and the Collegiata. The Rocca is the old forte which now houses a contemporary & modern art museum and the Collegiata which is octagonal building that is one of the primary churches in the historical part of Old Umbertide. In front of La Rocca, is a newly renovated and redesigned area that has a footbridge, landscaped walkways and is very pleasant to walk around. Events such as wine tasting have taken place in this new area and the new design makes it incredibly beautiful both at night and during the daytime. 

A view of the newly redesigned part of Umbertide

Getting a piggy-back ride in front of the Collegiata

Posing on the new footbridge in Umbertide

Just a five minute drive on the road leading you out of Old Umbertide and to the E45 one will find the commercial part of Umbertide which has many of the bigger stores and shopping centers such as COOP and Maestro. This part of Umbertide is more modernized and also has a growing number of residential buildings, parks, playgrounds and restaurants. Over the past ten years we have witnessed a marked growth in this part of Umbertide. 

We highly recommend visiting Umbertide if you are traveling near Perugia or happen to be passing through or staying somewhere in the Niccone Valley. You will find friendly people, great restaurants and historical attractions. If you would like to share your knowledge of Umbertide with us please do so in the comments below or contact us directly using the feedback tab on the left.

To view more pictures of Umbertide click HERE

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