Tuesday, September 26, 2006

There's No "x" in Espresso

(Note: the fact that Bryan wrote about coffee the same week that I did can either mean that "great minds think alike" or that he is a topic thief. I'll have to keep an eye on him.)

Anyone who knows Bryan even casually will know that he is passionate about espresso. Not coffee, mind you, but espresso. Unlike me, who started drinking coffee at the ripe age of 12 or 13, he never touched a cup of American coffee. He thought it akin to drinking dirty water and opted for tea when he wanted caffeine. Until our first visit to Rome, that is.

Jet lag will do funny things to the body and the mind and, desperate to stay awake to feed the cravings in his stomach for the wonderful aromas wafting down the street from the trattorias, he succumbed to an espresso. One packet of sugar to sweeten the brew and his eyes perked up and a smile crossed his face. He had found true love.

That first cup got him started. He spent years trolling the so-called espresso cafes around America in search of a real and satisfying espresso without much luck. Oh sure, there was the occasional “perfect cup” but, like the wine-seekers in Sideways he rarely found that which had the right taste and crema, smooth and whatever else it is he looks for in an espresso. Like wine, I know what I like and drink it rather than examining the “finer qualities”. I’m a cappuccino girl, myself.

Here in Italy my beloved is in espresso heaven. Every day, morning and afternoon like clockwork, he imbibes the brew and is deeply satisfied. There are favored brands. Illy, acknowledged widely as “Italy’s best caffe” is a treat; it is too expensive for an everyday coffee, though the Illy bar in town isn’t too much more for an espresso than an ordinary bar. At home his choice is usually Kimbo; barring its availability he’ll settle for Lavazza. The bars have brands we’ve not heard of before…Saccaria, Mokambo, Tameucci, Cuba Caffe. He’ll taste them all and get back to you on which, in his estimation, rates highest.

Italians, as everyone knows, are passionate about coffee. This is, after all, where all the famous coffee drinks were born…think about the names – espresso, cappuccino, caffe latte – all Italian. They have years of experience in creating these concoctions without watering them down or roasting the beans until they give the resulting beverage a burned taste (like that famous coffee purveyor that serves swill in America at grossly inflated prices). I have never seen a range of syrup bottles (just liquor bottles in case you want a caffe corretto, corrected coffee…grappa with espresso anyone?). No “mochaccinos” or “caramel lattes” around here. We’ve not even tried to explain those to our friends.

If we offer a cup of coffee to our Italian friends they will say, “ah si, prendo un caffe,” then add the clarifying amendment, “uh, but Italian coffee, yes?” Everyone among our acquaintance is in concensus that American coffee is “schifo”, disgusting. Too watery; no taste; cooked flavor…these are complaints we frequently hear about our nation’s cup of joe. Bryan vehemently affirms his agreement and tells them how he never, ever has allowed American coffee to pass his lips and pollute his body. They are duly impressed and proud of him.

I, for my part, enjoy the coffee options here, too, though I admit that a brewed mug of rich Columbian on a cold day, nursed while watching the news or reading the paper, isn’t so bad to me. Heretic, my husband thinks. So we both have our satisfying cups, I, my cappuccino, and Bryan, the purist, his simple caffe with one packet of sugar.

copyright 2006 Valerie Schneider


FinnyKnits said...

THANK YOU! Nothing bothers me more than people saying, "Expresso". Especially when those people work in alledged authentic Italian restaurants and are trying to pass themselves off as Italians. Blasphemous!

I, too, fell in love with true espresso and fabulous Italian coffee during my last trip to Rome and will be getting a cappuccino as soon as I step off the plane in a week.

While in the US however, I strictly drink tea.

doreen said...

I love reading you and your husbands adventures in Italy. I hope to travel to Italy one day because of your wonderful stories. Please ask your husband to write about what you are doing to extend your stay in Italy for over one year. Thank you, doreen

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Incredibly well written! I touched on this over on my page too... Italy and espresso go hand in hand. The students I used to work with would ask me how they could get a cappuccino "to go" and, why are they so SMALL? :-) You can thank that famous coffee purveyor that serves swill in America at grossly inflated prices) for that!

J.Doe said...

I like the espressi in Italy, especcialy the caffe lattes. Much better than the flavored ones here (you need the flavoring to hide the burnt coffee taste)
When I was in Italy I had a filtered machine, and the Italian blends of coffee tasted really good ground up fine for those machines too.
Don't order an american coffee in a bar though. They make a normal espresso and then add hot water to it. Yuck

Anonymous said...

I myself refer to American coffee as "brown water". I like drinking espresso and machiatto whenever I prefer coffee with a little milk. In Italy it must be against the law to make bad coffee because I never had a bad coffee there. By the way Italians only order espresso between lunch and dinner and will order milk with their coffee for breakfast only. It's the same way in France where French people only order cafe au lait or cafe eXpress for breakfast but eXpresso is ordered after completing lunch or dinner. I guess that's how they caught American spies in Italy and France because spies made a mistake not ordering espresso (Italy) or cafe eXpress (France).