Italian Food Rules – No Cappuccino After 10am

“Italians, it so happens, spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about digestion. The predilection towards a before-dinner drink-known as an aperitivo – is due in large part because Italians believe a drink such as Campari and soda “opens the stomach.” If you launch into your bruschetta – followed by pasta, followed by grilled fish, followed by panna cotta – without first awakening the digestive tract with an aperitivo, you’re just asking for trouble.” (The Daily Traveler for Condé Nast)

Cappuccino Classico
Cappuccino Classico

To sip a cappuccino after lunch is a direct and major violation of an Italian Food Rule. Italians believe the fresh whole milk that makes up over half of the contents of this drink plays havoc with digestion. To order a cappuccino after 10am, unless you are breakfasting after said hour, is seen as suspect behavior worthy of at least a slight frown, advancing to a worried shake of the head, and can escalate to outright ridicule.

Francesca, my guide to all of the pitfalls that lead to violations of Italian Food Rules, once had a hilarious exchange with a waiter after two German tourists at a nearby table unwittingly ordered cappuccini after dinner. Scornfully, she wondered if they were going to order breakfast for dessert.

Origins of Cappuccino

Most believe that cappuccino was named after the light brown hoods worn by a hard-core, split-away order of Franciscan monks, founded in the early 16th century – the Capuchin monks, or Cappuccini. The word cappuccio means “hood” in Italian, and the “ino” ending is a diminutive. Thus, cappuccino means “little hood.”

Cappuccino - the Italian breakfast
Cappuccino – the Italian breakfast

Others credit Capuchin monk Marco D’Aviano with the invention of the drink, allegedly after he discovered a sack of coffee captured from the Ottomans during the battle of Vienna in 1683. (D’Aviano was beatified in 2003 for his missionary work and miraculous power of healing.)

In reality, the popular coffee, topped with foamed milk, dates back to the early 20th century, but the name wasn’t associated with the beverage until just before 1950.

Cappuccino – Breakfast of Italians

Fresh Milk & Espresso = Cappuccino
Fresh Milk & Espresso = Cappuccino

To the Italians, milk is almost a meal in itself. So having a cappuccino at the neighborhood bar in the morning on the way to work or school requires no other food to be considered a complete breakfast. (A small pastry may be included, but not always.)


Cappuccino is more milk than coffee, so it is full of calories. Perhaps the reasoning is that slender Italians (the ones that don’t order the pastry) are more likely to burn off the calories through the day. Drunk later, those pesky calories stay on the hips

Some say that cappuccino is best in the morning because the milk has lactose (a sugar) and the body absorbs the lactose and milk fat quickly, so the carbohydrate energy is available immediately before the caffeine stimulant kicks in.

Food Rule – No Cappuccino after Meals

The real reason behind the Food Rule, however, is that Italians are firmly convinced that drinking milk after any meal will mess up the ability to digest food properly. So having a cappuccino at any time after lunch, or after dinner, in Italy is unthinkable.

Tourists, therefore, shouldn’t be shocked when the waiter refuses to grant their cappuccino requests “for your own health.”

Capuccino Valentine
Cappuccino Valentine

For further reading:

Best Writing about Italian Coffee

How to Order an Italian Coffee in Italy

Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Italian Food Rules: The Book

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback (United Kingdom) (Italy) (Germany) (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

43 thoughts on “Italian Food Rules – No Cappuccino After 10am

  1. Thanks, Ann! I have lived in Florence for most of the last 35 years and my Italian is near fluent even if I have maintained my cute (I hope) little American accent. Things have reached a pass…alas…where if I find myself eating in a Florentine restaurant where I am not known (which, admittedly, happens once in a blue moon) I am almost invariably offered a capuccino after the meal. And I invariably reply, “Meglio un espresso molto ristretto, grazie” (which is just me acting like a fool in order to prove a point, since I actually prefer “espresso normale”.) Having said that, I have often noted that ordering a capuccino after 10am (like many things that foreigners do in Italy) is a horrendous crime against civilization UNLESS IT IS AN ITALIAN WHO DOES IT!!! Cases in point: Florentines will drink capuccino, quite happily, with a pezzo dolce or even a pezzo salato up until around noon for their “second breakfast”, but also in the afternoon with their merenda or filling in for a missed lunch (which happens more often these days than I would ever have imagined possible.) Even after dinner, I have seen-only rarely it is true, but still…-Italians (even in the south) ask for a goccina di latte in their coffee “to settle the stomach”. Of course, if an American at the next table asked for the same thing, he or she would either get the kind of overly bright smile that is usually saved for an idiot child, or else, an offer of a bowl of cornflakes.

  2. Grazie for the long comment. All of what you say is so true. BUT that doesn’t negate the truth that No Cappuccino After 10am is an Italian Food Rule (even if they violate it). I enjoyed visiting your SecretPlacesItaly web site, BTW.

  3. That’s true! I’m italian and I often order a cappuccino in the afternoon.. and suddenly everyone looks at me like i’m freaking crazy…but i love it 🙂

  4. I’m Italian and I agree with what Edward Goldberg wrote, the cappuccino rule is constantly violated. I for one don’t drink espresso (which is a violation per se in southern Italy), and I find myself ordering cappuccinos at any time if sitting with others at the table as they have caffè, and I’ve never received weird stares from waiters.
    One thing I’d never do, though, is to drink cappuccino right after a full meal: In that case, although espresso would be preferable, some good alternatives are limoncello or grappa liquors.
    Speaking of “caffè con un goccino di latte” (i.e. coffee with a ‘small drop’ of milk), that must be defined as “caffè macchiato” (i.e. ‘stained’ coffe) and it doesn’t follow the cappuccino rule.

  5. I’m always amused when travelers behave as though they have to *become* their hosts in another country. I see sites and read books where people say “If you order this or do that, it’s a dead giveaway that you’re a foreigner.” Well, yes, I *am* a foreigner. It’s not a dirty word. Now, becoming an “ugly American” while abroad would reflect a lack of respect and simply being a bad guest in another’s country–but I hardly think the way one takes one’s coffee should create an international incident. If we pretend to be of a culture that we’re not, we can only end up looking foolish or like a silly poser. For Francesca to sit in judgment of what someone else orders to drink makes her sound rather petty and childish, to be honest. It far exceeds the level of rudeness that a late-day cappuccino would represent.

    I’m fortunate that my Italian relatives don’t ever expect me to be anyone other than myself, and I return the favor. They appreciate what makes us different, and I feel the same (you know, except for the second-hand smoke at the dinner table–and I’m not going to take up smoking just because I’m in Italy, either. ;-)).

    I also note that they don’t for one second change who they are when they come to visit me–sometimes doing far worse than ordering a taboo beverage. When Italian visitors to my city (New York) decide to start letting people get off of elevators and trains before piling in (as they are wont to do at home in Italy), every man for himself, then maybe I’ll adjust the timing of my cappuccino when visiting ‘the boot’. But until then, I don’t think I’ll let the minutiae of life get in the way of connecting with people in an authentic, rather than a contrived way. If someone avoids me because of the timing of my cappuccino, I doubt I would have enjoyed getting to know someone deeply concerned with such frivolities, anyway.

    At best, I think travel is an exchange between people. If you try too hard to change and become something you’re not, then what will you have to offer them that is unique? It will be an uneven exchange, with you getting something novel and interesting, and them getting a rather poor copy of themselves. Be polite and inquisitive, always, but certainly you should also be yourself.

    My two cents–and despite how it may sound, I love Italy and Italians, and do abide by some Italian food rules, even when at home in the States. Thanks for the post. The photos are tempting–it’s after 2pm, and I think I just might need to make myself a cappuccino after seeing them.

  6. Enjoy your cappuccino Blanche (hope it isn’t followed by a tummy-ache) and thanks for the extensive comment (knowing Francesca, I am sure she would agree with you about the “Italian queuing” (or lack there of) behavior of her compatriots).

  7. I am finding these articles very interesting. But some pf these rules seem a little militant – If I want to eat pizza on my own for lunch with a cappucino then I will. I shake my head at any Italian that would like to do the same but would not because it is not seen as the done thing.

  8. Great article! Not many people understand the immense difference between American coffee culture and the coffee culture in the rest of the world. Keep up the great work!

  9. Don’t they have science in Italy?

    Seems like a quick discussion with a gastroenterologist would lay this silly “food rule” to rest.

  10. Well, I don’t know if this is true in other countries, but here in Brazil we think it’s really weird when we see in U.S. (or british) movies those meals with a big, fat, glass of milk on the side. Milk is for breakfast, the afternoon “lanche” or before bedtime. Milk is too thick, too greasy to follow a hearty meal, although we happily top everything with a lot of cheese all the time, go figure. I mean, maybe this is true for other countries, the concept that the main meals just don’t go with drinking milk.

  11. Thanks Ariadne! I just took part in a long discussion in Florence after Christmas lunch about the appropriate dessert. All of the Italians agreed that you would never have gelato or a mascarpone cream confection after lunch, but the creme brûlée was okay because the milk had been cooked (even if it was French, and suspect for that reason). Ann

  12. I am an American in Italy right now on an extended vacation and just arrived in Tuscany after 5 days in Venice. I will next be in Positano and then Rome. I pride myself on researching the “rules” of the countries I am visiting when traveling and trying to be a polite guest, learning customs, style and language before I leave to be prepared and not stick out. I tend to eat on the lighter side, so the rules that say you must order an antipasti, a primi, a secondi, a side and a dolci (or some combination of at least two courses) have been a bit difficult for me, but I am enjoying trying some delicious new meals. Personally, I enjoy a coffee with my dessert (if I am having it) or sometimes just a coffee after dinner as my dessert. On our last night in Venice, we went to a restaurant that is apparently a favorite of the locals. My husband and I split an antipasti (a caprese salad) and I ordered a primi for my main meal (spaghetti al nero de seppio), while he ordered a secondi (baccala with polenta). After dinner, I wanted a coffee and could not remember if the “rules” said to only have cappuccino in the morning or at night. All of the Italians in the cafes in the morning drank espresso as far as I could remember, so I (incorrectly) assumed that evening was the “ok” time to have cappuccino. As soon as I ordered, a local girl at a nearby table started hysterically laughing, very obviously (and loudly) making fun of me with her words and gestures to her friend and to the waiter (and no, I am not fat, was not wearing a fanny pack, an “I love NY” t-shirt, or clunky sneakers). I was absolutely mortified and felt like a huge fool. I drank my cappuccino in shame and it really ruined my night. When we left, I asked my husband if there was anything a person could come to America and order at an odd time of day and be ridiculed for it publicly by a stranger at another table and we couldn’t think of a single thing. I find it quite hypocritical that gelato is considered ok as a dessert, even after dinner, when it is made entirely of sugar, heavy cream and milk. God forbid though that you request a coffee with milk in it and you’re the laughing stock of Italy… interesting. What a terrible experience that was, but I’ll never make the same mistake again, so I guess I’ve learned my lesson. 1 point for the Italians. To be fair, that was the only rude encounter we have had so far. Everything else has been wonderful. I just wonder why anyone would care that much about what someone else is ordering to drink.

  13. That’s not totally true… Here in Italy, se usually have cappuccino or coffee and cornetto (brioche) for breakfast. We always eat something before beginning the working day! 😉

  14. RelaaaaXXX !!!
    IMHO, the most annoying tourists are those who try hard to behave more local than the locals themselves… So please, folks, relax!
    It might strike most Italians as strange to see someone have a cappuccino or a caffè latte after lunch or at any later time of the day – BUT: Do you feel like enjoying a Cappuccino?? So for heaven’s sake: do enjoy it!

  15. The cappuccino rule has no more relation to “health” as it has to taste. I’ve never heard of Italian waiters who disapprove of this request from foreigners because it’s “unhealthy”. It’s simply “gross” to drink cappuccino after lunch or dinner.

  16. Milk per se is not the probem. We just think that adding 400 calories or more to a full meal for a drink is crazy (so is drinking cold milk as a beverage, BTW). We would rather have dessert. As said above, people may have Cappuccino as a substitute for lunch, so having one after a meal is definitely weird to us.

  17. Im sure a cappuccino is not very good for you (I think its garbage) and mostly foam and milk over coffee and that even an espresso which I still don’t generally drink anyway is best (I prefer drip coffee) or kona or something like that although it seems illogical as many Italians are allowed to SMOKE any time of day and that gets no stares. Is smoking better for you than a cappuccino I am not certain

  18. It’s all well and good having this rule, but is it really true that milk messes with your ability to digest other foods? If so, why? Cheese is clearly OK with them, including mozzarella, which still contains lactose. I can’t see a rational explanation for it, so frankly the joke is on the idiots making it.

    P.S. I have a cappuccino most mornings, and very rarely later in the day, however I have milk in tea, or a glass of milk if I feel like it, and it doesn’t cause any problems!

  19. The phenomenon of thinking you are being laughed or talked about when you cannot even understand the language ! No one gives a hoot what you drink and every bar or restaurant is happy to sell you the more expensive cappuccino. You can live here 20+ years and you will still not be a local. Who cares? No one is more uptight about these so called rules than visiting stranieri. I live as south as you can get in Italy and I was given a totally logical explanation by a trattoria owner who told me most people eat pasta with tomato based sauces, or meat /fish with lemon squeezed over it. Milk on top of that acidic stuff curdles, hence tummy ache

  20. I just have to chime in, only because it happens I just purchased a coffee machine that makes both espresso and cappuccino (I enjoy both). This is much ado about nothing. I don’t believe that drinking cappuccino after breakfast is an actual Italian “food rule”, probably more like a custom. Everybody is different and is unreasonable to expect foreigners to have the same taste or habits than locals. The bottom line is that one should eat or drink whenever and whatever they like or enjoy; in a similar vein, this also applies with wine: if you like an oaky Chard instead of a full bodied Cab with your steak, that’s your preference and business, you don’t have to adhere to the “rule” of red with meat, white with seafood. And if an snobby oenophile or server wants to snicker or do an eye roll , shame on them, it reflects more badly on them than on you. Life is too short (yes, have dessert first, that would shock them : ) to be concerned with such a lilliputian detail like the timing of a coffee drink or the right wine pairing. Cheers!

  21. An Italian laughed at you, and *you* are embarrassed?? In the U.S., we are taught that it is the height (or depth) of rudeness to laugh at another person. We have a goal of equality. We do not always attain it, that’s for sure, but we try to not consciously put other people down. And for what they eat at what time of day?? Puleez.

  22. I’m Italian and I’m a little bit shocked by the comments. I’m from northern Italy and I swear that I’ve never heard these rules about cappuccino until I started reading the internet.
    Well, we Italians don’t have cappuccino at the end of lunch and dinner as we consider it a meal, we like having and espresso coffee, or a caffè macchiato which is an espresso coffee with a very little milk to end a lunch.
    As far as I’m concerned, away from lunch I do have cappuccino at bar whenever I want e no one never had a laugh at me or gave me bad looks. I enter a bar in the afternoon, say in the 4pm, I ask a barman or a waiter/waitress a cappuccino and he/she writes the order without thinking anything bad.
    To Erin: the Italian girl who histerically laughed at you is silly. Don’t mind her…I wrote the same things in some Youtube videos and I got VERY rude comments by other Italians. Unfortunately many Italians are rude…

  23. The same thing happened to me years ago when I was in the south.We were at a cafe and it was quite cold so I ordered a cappuccino and the waiter looked at me strangely and then my cousins and others laughed at me so loudly and hysterically that I just wanted to get up and walk away.
    I just think that they were incredibly rude and ignorant but I believe in Karma and hopefully someone has laughed at them like idiots!

  24. Cappuccino is for breakfast, period. Like porridge for brits or eggs-and-bacon for americans. Would you have eggs & bacon for dinner ? I don’t think so. And please, do NOT pour vinegar on mozzarella, that is a sacrilege.

  25. I just got back from three weeks in Italy, where I drank cappuccini at all hours of the day. No one sneered. No one frowned. No one gave a rat’s ass. Everyone knew I was a foreigner because of my accent, and I couldn’t have cared less. Rather than enforce some silly rules, I was met at every turn with politeness, courtesy, and a sense of welcome.

    I had also heard that Italians don’t eat while walking, yet in Milan I saw dozens of people doing exactly that.

    The world is changing. If anyone has trouble with my ordering a cappuccino at 4pm, that’s the exception rather than the rule.

  26. That’s true! I’m Italian and usually have cappuccino or coffee for breakfast. It is really true that milk will totally screw up your digestion if Consumed after a meal. Thanks for sharing such an informative post.

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