-By Diana Maiola
Italians are masters of fine art, architecture, opera, film, Mediterranean cuisine and of course excellent coffee!!
Surrounding their beloved espresso is an art, a process and rules that celebrate and elevate this beverage to the highest regard. Science and tradition are married when it comes to brewing, serving and drinking a fine cup of espresso. For example, at home most Italians still use the simple and traditional Moka Pot or Machinetta to make their espresso as high-end machines that mimic those in an actual bar or café are rare. You would never serve your home-made brew to a guest by just putting a cup on the table in front of them. You must always have a tray ready and serve your guests properly providing a napkin, a saucer under the cup, sugar and a tiny expresso spoon. The only time an exception can be made is when the person you are serving is someone you know really well and you choose to stand up and drink and not sit down.
Breakfast, if not had at home, typically includes a shot of espresso and a pastry standing up at the bar. A glass of water is always served with the espresso in order to cleanse the palette before and after consumption. As a shot of espresso takes less than a minute to drink (Venti sized Frappucinos DO NOT EXIST in Italy) you will pay the normal price which is about 0.80 – 1.00 euro cents. A more high-end fancy café will charge up to 2.00 – 4.00 euro for the same. If served at a table sitting down, the price can be up to double that of standing at the bar to consume.
So, now you are ready. It is morning in Rome and you are admiring the ancient architecture that surrounds you as you walk down a narrow street otherwise known as a vicoletto. Suddenly you are captivated by the intense aroma of a freshly made cup of fine espresso. You enter the bar and are greeted with the noise of the café. I like to compare it to a busy scene on an orchestrated stage. You are met with beans being freshly ground, clanking dishes and cups, faucets running and the forced sound of steam as fresh milk is being transformed into heavenly foam by the barista. This scene basically continues all day…. The first thing to do is to locate the cashier. Order and pay for your coffee and pastry and hold on to your scontrino (receipt). Next, go to the crowded bar and get the attention of the barista so that you can hand over your receipt. At this point, you can be specific and tell the barista that you would like warm milk vs boiling hot, you would prefer your coffee served in a glass rather than a porcelain cup or you can tell the barista that you prefer your espresso lungo (extra long). He/She are there to please you and they are typically happy to do so. In some cases, you will get the rolled eye ball treatment, but, Oh well!! That is life!! This is about you and not them! Keep in mind that if decaf is your preference, it can cost up to 50 euro cents more than regular,
Throughout the rest of the day, several more cups of espresso are always justified as it is a ritual to be enjoyed often with family, friends and colleagues. Remember, espresso is considered a “digestivo” which means that in addition to waking you up in the morning it serves as a closer to the stomach to aid in digestion after a meal. While espresso or macchiato are typical choices for any hour of the day, milky coffees such as cappuccino or caffe latte should not be consumed after the morning hours as excessive milk can create indigestion when mixed with food.
Following are the correct terms for Italian Coffee……Enjoy!!
Caffè or Espresso: These terms are used interchangeably and signify one single, 3 oz shot of espresso in a demitasse porcelain cup.
Doppio: ‘Double’, or two shots of espresso.
Americano or Lungo: A ‘long’ espresso that has twice as much water, creating a thinner brew.
Ristretto: A ‘reduced’ espresso that uses half the amount of water.
Macchiato: Espresso that is ‘marked’ with a splash of milk or milk foam. This is my personal favorite and I like it best with a sprinkle of cocoa on top!
Cappuccino: Espresso with equal parts steamed milk and topped with foamed milk. Usually ordered at breakfast and never ordered after lunch or dinner. Also delicious with a dusting of cocoa!
Caffè Latte: A large cup of latte, or milk, marked with a shot of espresso….Very different from the lost in translation version across the Atlantic.
Caffé Corretto: A shot of espresso with a shot of liquor in it. The liquor can be many things like sambuca, brandy or the most popular, grappa. A favorite of my Pugliese grandfather, I can still remember him around the table with his brothers drinking their espresso with a shot of Canadian Club in it.