(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