I was never a drinker of coffee until we made our first trip to Italy in 1998 and I was having problems getting over jet-lag. While on our way to some sightseeing we stopped at a roadside cafe and I was introduced to what Americans call espresso but what in Italy is simply caffe’. Mind you, this is not the bitter liquid that passes for espresso in America but a smooth 1 to 2 oz coffee bean extraction with a rich crema that tantalizes the taste buds. This is the basis of all coffee drinks in Italy.
After we returned to America I made various attempts to obtain true caffe’ at coffee shops and more often than not had to explain what a true caffe’ is to the local barista and suffer with a watery bitter or burnt extraction costing upwards of $1.25. I eventually purchased a manual espresso machine to make my own and daily had my “fix” while dreaming of true Italian caffe’. Traveling away from home was also a trial in finding a decent caffe’ and I would amuse family, friends and coworkers in my search for a real caffe’.
I admit I was a coffee snob. And no, Starbucks is NO comparison for Italian coffee.
In Italy coffee is served at what is called a “Bar” which is nothing like what Americans know as a bar. Italian bars are usually quite small, 100 sf to 200 sf, and offer coffee, some liquors, pastries and perhaps other food items. Italians generally drink their coffee while standing at the counter as part of a social interaction. Bars are as common in Italy as gas stations are in America. Where we live I have access to 3 bars within a 10 minute walking distance and I can enjoy true caffe’ for a little as .60 Euro. Even with currency conversions this is less than 75 cents.
One of the common rituals in Italy is the morning coffee with a pastry, I have easily adapted to this. We usually partake when we are out running errands in the morning; we will stop in a bar where we will both have a pastry -Valerie will have a cappuccino and I a caffe’, all for around 4 Euro.
They may not grow the beans here but Italians have definitely perfected the art of making delicious coffee.