Before I start, I just want to let my Italian readers know that I am not bringing into discussion the quality of Italian coffee. Caffè Italiano is delicious and potent. What I am talking about here is the culture that surrounds coffee in Italy and how its different from the one in the USA. So, no hate mail or angry comments from the Italians, okay? I love my espresso as much as anybody. :-)
Wanna grab a cup of coffee? This is something that you can easily hear all over the USA. What follows is usually two (or more) friends sitting down for a while to a cup of coffee and a piece of cake or a giant muffin or a frosted cookie or some other unhealthy American sweet thing that I am definitely craving in this exact moment,as I write this phrase (doooonuts…). These people chat about their family, jobs, love life, or “catch up”, all over a nice hot cup of American coffee.
Even if you are by yourself, you can walk into any Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, or any slew of local coffee shops and sit down for hours at end. While you sip on your coffee you can read the newspaper, surf the web with free Wi-Fi, wait for the rainstorm to pass, or simply just people watch. The best part is that even if you only buy one cup of coffee, you can still hang out in your American coffee shop for hours and hours without the staff trying to throw you out the door or other customers looking at you weird.
Now, on the other side of the ocean here in Italy, coffee entails, more often than not, an espresso. With an espresso (which Italians usually throw down the hatch like a boiling hot shot) the whole “wanna grab a cup of coffee” experience lasts exactly 12.7 seconds. Let’s look at the following script to help give you a better idea of what I’m talking about:
The scene opens on two smartly dressed Italian friends who meet on a typical Italian sidewalk, littered with vespas and cars parked at improbable angles, covering most of it
Giuseppe: Hey, wanna grab a cup of coffee?
Carla: Sure! Sounds great
They enter into the nearest coffee bar
Giuseppe: One espresso please.
Carla: Same for me!
Two espressos are served in about 5.3 seconds by a barista with a typical, almost comical, Italian moustache
Giuseppe: (stirring sugar into his espresso) How have you been?
Carla: (adding just a drop of milk to her espresso) Good, you?
Giuseppe: (tossing back his espresso) Can’t complain.
Carla: (doing the same) Well, that nice. Ok, good seeing you. Bye-bye!
Both Italians place their empty espresso cups on the bar and walk out
Did you time it? See, 12.7 seconds flat, just like I said!
You’ll also note that neither of the characters in that artfully written script ever sat down during the scene. This is because Italian coffee is had while standing on your feet. The brevity of an Italian coffee break makes it impractical to sit down. You’ll have finished your espresso before you even get the seat pulled out from under the table. And you’ll look pretty foolish going around Italy pulling seats out from under tables for no good reason.
Another interesting point on why Italians will have their coffee on their feet (and take note of this, dear reader, if you have never been to Italy and plan on coming). Coffee costs more if you are sitting at a table. I know I make a lot of sh!t up, but I swear this one is true! It costs more because of the service of having someone actually bring the coffee over to you, instead of just placing it on the bar, and because after you leave, they need to go collect the cups and wipe off the table.
Well, guys, I don’t know what time it is for you, but it’s early here, so I’m gonna go have a coffee. I prefer mine macchiato. The word “macchiato” in Italian means “stained” and this coffee is called that because basically its an espresso with a dollop of frothy steamed milk “staining it” on the top (but no milk poured into the coffee itself, like with a cappuccino). Now, if I could only get a honey-dipped donut to go with that..
***August 30th, 2011 – UPDATE ***
This weekend I found a place in Milan called Arnold Coffee. It is a-maz-ing!! It’s kind of like a Starbucks …. in Italy!!! This is BIG news guys (those Americans living in Italy would totally understand me!) I had an iced caramel macchiato, and it was wonderful! They also have donuts, cheesecake, giant muffins, and free wi-fi! I seriously felt like I was in America for a minute! This changes everything! :-)