References to classic Italian espresso culture in the United States are sometimes comical and sometimes confusing.
Many words you’ll see on today’s coffee shop menus came to us via Starbucks. For example, the ubiquitous use of the term “macchiato” to describe a giant caramel milkshake. Other traditional Italian words have also been warped by the marketing engine of the American coffee industry.
One term that Starbucks popularized in Seattle in the 1980s and 1990s is “doppio.”
In Seattle, under the watchful eye of a certain green mermaid, the use of the word doppio is still going strong today. In fact, if you order a “double” in Seattle, many baristas will check in with you to make sure you didn’t mean “two doppios.”
In other parts of the country, though, saying doppio in a high-end coffee shop might make you stand out as someone who’s not an industry-insider.
While inexperienced baristas might take this as a license to look down on you, the best coffee professionals take pride in educating their customers.
When a genuine professional barista hears you use the word doppio anywhere outside of a Starbucks, they may think one of the following things:
- You’re from Seattle.
- You just arrived from Italy and came to their shop because you’re looking for some serious coffee.
- You traveled here in a time machine from 1992 and are still adjusting to modern culture.
- Your knowledge of industry trends hasn’t caught up with your genuine love of coffee, and you are an excellent candidate for becoming a loyal regular.
So, if you ask for a doppio in a fancy cafe and the barista starts asking you lots of prying questions about your order, don’t be afraid. They’re just trying to figure out what kind of customer you are and how best to serve you.
To understand why the word comes with so much baggage, let’s explore what makes a doppio a doppio.
What is the Definition of Doppio
Pronounced “DOH-pee-oh,” the word just means “double” in Italian.
The Specialty Coffee Association defines espresso as:
“… a 25–35ml (.85–1.2 ounce […]) beverage prepared from 7–9 grams […] of coffee through which clean water of 195–205F (90.5–96.1C) has been forced at 9–10 atmospheres of pressure, and where the grind of the coffee is such that the brew time is 20–30 seconds. While brewing, the flow of espresso will appear to have the viscosity of warm honey and the resulting beverage will exhibit a thick, dark golden crema. Espresso should be prepared specifically for and immediately served to its intended consumer.”
A doppio espresso is the same thing, just twice the size.
Where a single shot of espresso uses 8 grams of ground coffee and produces a 1-ounce drink, a doppio espresso uses around 16 grams of ground coffee and produces a 2-ounce drink.
How is Doppio Different From a Standard Espresso
The cultural differences between a doppio and a standard espresso are more easily defined than any real physical difference.
There are many different meanings connected to the word, so what you get when you order a doppio will vary greatly depending on where you are in the country and what kind of coffee shop you’re in.
The amount of coffee used to pull a single shot of espresso is very small. A thin coffee bed in the portafilter (the removable filter basket used to brew espresso) makes it more difficult for the barista to properly tamp the coffee (pack it down into a smooth even puck). Pulling a double shot allows the barista more room for error, and produces a more consistent beverage.
Because of the relative ease of pulling consistent, high-quality shots using more coffee, most coffee shops in the United States have come to serve doubles as their standard shot size. Because of this, the word doppio is viewed as somewhat old-fashioned in most parts of the country.
Unless you’re in Seattle, it’s probably safer to use the word “double” when ordering an espresso in the United States. Better yet, just say “espresso” and let your talented barista present the coffee the way she thinks it tastes best.
Ordering a Doppio in Italy
No American ever really fits in walking around the streets of Napoli, but it’s polite to try at least to avoid offending local culture and customs. This sentiment tends to raise some anxiety in most travelers as they try to “look local.”
Espresso bars are one of the core components of Italy’s culture and food-ways. As an espresso lover traveling in Italy, you might find yourself intimidated when you walk into a traditional Italian cafe for the first time.
Remember that baristas in Italy are just as interested in pleasing their customers as they are anywhere in the world. Order what you want, and don’t let the weight of tradition bear down on you.
That said. If you’re trying to fit in like a local at an Italian cafe, it’s essential to know that they have a deep-rooted and strictly regimented culture and etiquette compared to American coffee shops.
The traditional Italian espresso comes in one size. When you order a doppio in Italy, you’ll likely get two of these drinks served in one cup. It’s probably best to order a second espresso when you finish the first, rather than trying to get a larger drink.
A few other things to remember in Italian coffee culture:
- Espresso is meant to be enjoyed immediately after it’s pulled, so Italians usually drink it while standing at the bar.
- Italian coffee is small. Don’t order a “venti” anything in Italy. It’s not a thing, and it’s dumb.
- Cappuccinos and other milk drinks are breakfast drinks in Italy. They’re not usually consumed after lunch-time or following a meal.
Even though third wave specialty coffee is finding its way into Italy’s cafe culture, also keep in mind that some of the best coffee shops in Italy may not look like coffee shops at all.
One of the great joys of exploring coffee in Italy is drinking a world-class doppio espresso at the bar right next to someone playing a slot machine and drinking a beer at 9 in the morning.