Sipping iced coffee during sultry, hot summer days is one of the most satisfying and refreshing things ever.
Italy boasts many exceptional regional chilled espresso variations. Here is a list of our favorites.
Disclaimer: This post contains endorsements for products, which means when you click on a link that we recommend, we may receive a small commission. Not every link is an affiliate link, but some are. Your purchase helps support our work in bringing you real information about food and culture.
When the temperature rises, there’s always a big glass bottle of sweetened espresso coffee made with the moka pot in our refrigerator. Whether it’s a recycled wine bottle, or a celebratory magnum, the bigger the better. Even if you’re a hard-core fan of the piping hot espresso, one thing that’s for sure is that one caffè freddo is never enough. So you need massive amounts of it at the ready. In summer, Italian coffee bars keep a similar bottle topped up with espresso in their cold compartments, but it’s often too sweet for my taste.
This popular iced coffee beverage is a personal favorite. Room temperature espresso is shaken together with ice and sugar and served in a chilled martini or wine glass. Shakerato (whose name comes from the cocktail shaker used to make it) has a frothy and compact foam floating on the surface. Sometimes spiked with a liqueur cream (think Bailey’s) or other coffee alcoholic spirits.
Caffè in ghiaccio, aka Caffè Leccese
This old school Salento specialty has now become popular in the rest of Italy. The recipe to make your own requires the following:
1 short espresso (20 ml)
1 tbsp almond syrup
Pour the almond syrup into a shot glass; add ice rocks to the brim. The reason for using pieces of ice broken off a large block with an ice pick rather than cubes is that the rough pieces are much more resistant and won’t melt the moment they’re hit with the hot espresso like hollow machine-made ice cubes do.
Pull a ristretto espresso coffee, pour it in the glass with ice and syrup. Serve with a teaspoon to mix and dissolve the almond syrup, swirling the ice pieces in the hot espresso.
Drink it quickly before the ice melts and waters down the espresso (a sin). The perfect pre-swim beach beverage.
Typical of eastern Sicily, mezzo freddo is made by slowly cooling espresso and then serving it in a classic amaro glass with a dollop of coffee granita. Gourmands add a touch of sweet whipped cream, becoming mezzo freddo macchiato.
Granita di caffè
Granita is another typical product of Sicily and the delight of summer, when you have absolute license to eat it morning, noon and night. The Arabs brought the semi-frozen smooth dessert made from sugar, water and various flavorings to the island during their rule and calling it “sherbet.” Granita can be served with the famous brioche col tuppo i.e. a breakfast brioche pastry with a bun. When you scoop coffee granita between two layers of whipped cream you obtain granita di caffè con panna, a Rome specialty. Make your own granita by keeping your espresso coffee at freezing point while stirring it continuously to avoid it solidifying.
Caffè granito amalfitano
No, this is not a typo. This is a special iced coffee: served in semi-liquid form with coarse iced coffee crystals. Granito amalfitano, like the name implies, originated in Amalfi and is made by stirring espresso coffee during the freezing process. It’s a very fragrant, aromatic and “slow” beverage, which perfectly embraces the all-Neapolitan adoration of sacred black gold. The difference between Amalfi-style granito and Sicilian granita is all in the ice crystals. Skilled baristas keep granito at freezing point while shaking it to obtain the characteristic coarse texture.
Crema di caffè
This caffeinated gelato-meets-milkshake is essentially churned espresso with whipped cream or a milk emulsion to obtain a thick and creamy texture. Served in a cappuccino glass cup, it comes garnished with coffee beans and chocolate chips, sometimes ground nuts or chocolate sauce. You eat it with a spoon.
When you pour a piping hot shot of espresso over a scoop of vanilla gelato, you are effectively “drowning” the ice cream. The Italian term for something that’s drowned is affogato. This classic Italian delight can have variations that include a shot of amaretto or other coffee-friendly liqueurs.
What’s your favorite iced coffee beverage?