Italy 1: The Caffe.
I love caffeine. I love my French press and freshly ground pricey coffee beans. I love the espresso machine I received as a birthday gift last month. So lets just say… I was a bit excited to consume plenty of Italian coffee on this trip. However, I was in for a big shocker about the coffee (caffé) culture in Italy, Northern Italy at least. For one, there really is no coffee. There is only espresso (not a bad thing). An espresso lungo is a bit like an Americano and basically equates to coffee. Watered down espresso? No thanks, give me a double (doppio) of the real stuff please! Another shock is that all the espresso bars use the same machine and non-descript beans.
There was no display wall featuring artsy logos and minimal packaging of espresso beans for sale touting how artisanal, fair trade, and unique they were. I literally have no idea the type of beans I consumed for 10 days straight. I can tell you that some cafes had better espresso than others. Some were rich and creamy while others were bitter and even harsh. The biggest mistake I made in Italy was to order a latte. I was really trying to do well with using the few Italian words I’d picked up, but it was hot and I really did want espresso with milk, preferably over ice. I tried to relay that to my waitress but was promptly served a glass of room temperature milk. Latte. I’m pretty sure she gave me a look that said ‘oh you silly American’. I ate my pride and drank my milk. Interestingly it was delicious milk; fresh and very flavorful. From then on I learned the word ‘cappuccino’. Something I’ve never felt the need to order from Starbucks, who needs all that foam anyway!? But in Italy it translate to a creamy espresso shot just topped with thick foam. Use the little spoon to stir it all together with a sugar (yes, real sugar) packet and I’d found my true love. I think it had to do with seeing it in front of me. A much more personal experience than being given a cardboard to-go cup with a lid. Each espresso is served in a tiny mug with a spoon and 1 packet of real sugar. That is all. No flair. No menu of sugared up caramel machiatoes or s’more flavored Frappuccino’s. No small size. No venti size. No to-go cups. You got a mug; a tiny one or a slightly less tiny one. Most espresso is consumed standing at a bar. It’s a fast and simple process. Ordering goes like this – Walk in, say ‘Buongiorno’, Get a ‘Prego’ in response, say ‘uno espresso’ or ‘doppio espresso’ or ‘cappuccino’, wait roughly uno minuti, say ‘grazie mille’ when you are handed the beverage, stand at the counter and consume said beverage, pay your euro or two and leave. While I love Starbucks, it was extremely refreshing to not hear ‘Can I get a grande, extra hot, 2.5 pump, half soy half non carrageenan coconut milk caramel drizzle. Oh and an espresso is 1 Euro most everywhere, not bad at all! I may not be in Italy anymore, but I taken my Italian coffee habits with me. I’ve learned to expertly foam my milk at home and will never be able to consume a pumpkin spice latte again. I ordered a cappuccino from Starbucks and while it wasn’t the same, it will have to do.
I have to interject. I was writing the previous bit while flying to Florida to visit my parents. I had a brief layover in Atlanta and of course I ordered a cappuccino from a non Starbucks coffee place at the terminal. I was seriously asked ‘do you want whip on that?’ WHAT!? WHIP!? ON MY CAPPUCCINO?! I wanted to shed actual real tears of sadness. I am not in Italy anymore.