Sunday, November 27, 2011

My cup of coffee

Let’s start saying that often Italian words are misspelled abroad, the image above is missing an f but I have chosen to use it anyway, to make a point, of course Caffè  would be the right word, as the others you will find below in Italic, always often misspelled.

A great cup of coffee is perfect at any time, an occasion to invite a few friends over in a rainy afternoon, a coupe de thèatre at the end of a formal dinner, any moment of the day is perfect:  a hearty cup of coffee  or cappuccino for breakfast, or an espresso after lunch or dinner.

A few curiosities about coffee in Italy:
I mentioned cappuccino… in Italy is served only in the morning, if you ask for it in the afternoon they know you are a tourist…but they know you are one anyway, so go for it when you wish! Another tip for a tourist:  pick the busiest coffee bar you can see near you, go to the till to pay and just say “Espresso per favore”  (or you can simply say “Un Caffè” and they know you want an espresso, no long explanations needed of low fat, tall, medium roasted with caramel and on and on… ) and still standing up  grab your cup, pour some sugar into your 30 ml of espresso, stir briefly and drink at once, leave your cup and saucer on the counter and  out you go to enjoy the day.



If you want something similar to the American coffee ask for caffe’ lungo, which has much more caffeine.  In Italy you always see people standing elbow to elbow with others while drinking coffee or aperitivo, a way of recharging batteries in a fast way (even if we invented Slow Food movement, but that is another story…). In the best bars, especially in the South you can often be served a small glass of chilled water on the side, which cleans the palate and enhances the coffee flavor.

Caffelatte is the usual breakfast for kids, lots of milk and just a small quantity of coffee, my mother used to beat for us an egg yolk with a spoon of sugar and pour it on top of the caffelatte, it made a rich, thick cream and it was delicious.

Grown ups, after meals like at times to have a caffe’ corretto, a way of modify an espresso with a drop of liqueur,  usually strong grappa or the sweeter sambuca.

Caffe’ macchiato is instead an espresso with a drop of hot milk.

At home, when you entertain, to serve coffee the Italian way you will need the espresso cups with saucers, in a set or mix and match vintage colored pieces and coffee spoons, smaller and different than teaspoons and napkins also need to be small, like the ones used at cocktail parties, and preferably linen or cotton.


If possible serve on the side a selection of sugar, granulated or in cubes, raw or white ultrafine, and of course a small jug of milk is necessary if your guests want to add a drop of it and make it a macchiato.


If you serve coffee after dinner it is preferable to leave the table and sit in the living room, when  after dinner drinks and a light assortment of friandise can end beautifully a great dinner (or save a mediocre one, when recipes did not behave as you wished!)  you’ll then have an assortment of  petit four, chocolate truffles or some small meringues.

In the afternoon, to enrich it further you could provide some whipped cream to make it Viennese style or in summer try to add a teaspoon of ice cream, to achieve a delicious creamy taste.

In any case coffee chosen must be of the best quality and always fresh,  buy the best coffee grinder you can afford and ground your own just before brewing so the aroma is at its best, use fresh, clean, cold water and make only the quantity you are going to drink, coffee should never (ever) be reheated and the taste deteriorates when left in the pot.

“Let’s meet for coffee” is a way of entertaining in style, with not much effort
and without spending hours in the kitchen. 

Now I leave you because I need a cup of coffee!
©2011 Brillante Interiors writes about new trends, timeless decor, iconic pieces, design ideas, or at times just musing about "a certain Italian way of doing things".

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Kevin said...

After reading your article....or more correctly just after STARTING to read your article I have a very strong sense of the smell and taste of the Caffe in all the varieties you described! You paint a great picture and tell a great story! Thanks for enlightening us to the REAL Italian way!

the modern sybarite ™ said...

grazie mille per la spiegazione! It is sometimes easy to forget these things :-)

peggy braswell said...

How I loved this tale of Italian of Caffe + the images were perfect. A treasure! Thank you.

Claudia Juestel said...

And the French, Portuguese and Spanish call it Café, the Germans, Swiss and Austrians Kaffee, the Dutch Koffie, the Swedes, Norwegian and Danes Kaffe, the Greek Kafés, the Czech Káva, the Poles Kawa, the Hungarians Kávé and the Bulgarians Kafe. But perhaps we should call it Kahve since the Turks brought coffee to Europe.

Either way, I love how each country in Europe has their own interpretations. But I agree with you, the Italians do it best! In Austria people linger in Cafés for hours over one cup of coffee served with a glass of water. The Italians don't waste any time, drinking while standing, a quick chat and on they go. Personally I love the purity of a caffè ristretto, all the caffeine in one quick shot.

Frankly I was quite disappointed about what they called coffee here in the US when I first arrived. But now it finally has been elevated to the high standards it deserves.

Great piece Albarosa! Thanks for reminding everyone to grind coffee fresh and to never reheat a cup. I not so fondly remember the smell of microwaved coffee.

When you come to San Francisco I want to take you to Mavelous where they brew the best artisanal coffees in six different ways.



A CRITIC'S EYE said...

As it happens, I am lucky to be near a little coffee shop run by an Italian who can fix any of the described and sing like Bucheli (almost) to boot. What more could I ask for?

Theresa Cheek said...

This is the perfect handbook for "all things caffe"! You hit on many of the nuances that separate a tourist from a native Italian. Those espresso cups are treasures!

mary said...

Thanks, Albarosa, I needed this. Coffee is probably the one things I could not live without. And I like it any way it comes except weak or sweet. Have a wonderful day!

Joyce said...

Loved this post. It took me back to our trip to Italy last fall. Can't start my day without a strong black coffee!

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