An espresso truly is the perfect end to an Italian meal, especially if the meal consists of an antipasto, home made pasta and a selection of their famous roasted meats and potatoes . . . oh yes, and let’s not skip the Tiramisù !
Oh my gosh, if you eat all of that you need an espresso by law. I am serious, otherwise there is no way you can physically get up from the table. You would simply fall asleep in your empty plate.
I was a rare breed, one of those few Americans that never drank coffee before I first stepped foot into Italy – sure I knew what it was, but no one was ever going to give me a coffee mug at Christmas, because they knew it was just a waste of time. My first home in Italy, where I dropped my bags and made my bed, was with a family of a mixed nature (she was Tuscan and he was Roman) and I was quickly indoctrinated into “healthy” Italian culinary habits. My gut instinct, after all these years to mull it over, is that they just thought 130 lbs for a woman who was 5’7″ was a ridiculous ratio (personally, I quite liked the way my clothes fit 20 years ago.) But then again, as they so often told me in Italian “you’re American” and then they would nod their heads sympathetically. Translated into English it means – poor thing, she just doesn’t know any better … and before you start laughing too hard, you can subsitute American with any nationality that isn’t Italian and it would still be true – maybe more so for the Americans, but we do not stand alone in this matter!
Among the many things I was introduced to, coffee was high on the list. After all, the household was 50% Roman. I quickly found out that Romans never throw out coffee, even if it was in the pot 9 days old. You could always – not to be confused with occasionally, or almost all the time – no I mean ALWAYS, find coffee in the pot, and when they went to make a new pot – and it still wasn’t finished, they would simply open up the freezer, take out the cc (coffee container) and pour the leftover liquid into an accumulation of the brew, which would be taken out later and eaten with a dab of panna montata (affectionately known as whipped cream). a/k/a Granite di Cafe.
I must admit, as with many other culinary habits that I picked up, I acquired a taste for the Italian espresso. It varies, sometimes I like the moka (when you do it at home) and sometimes I prefer the steaming hot tiny little coffee mugs at the bar (the Italian cafè is always called a bar). Sometimes I like it straight up – and sometimes macchiato (that means stained) with warm milk. It kind of depends on the time of day (and what you are eating) as to what and how you drink it. Then I also have the added problem that too much of it makes me incredibly hyper, I think the only way to over come that is have it breast fed to you until you were old enough to start drinking it straight from the bottle – which was not my case.
What would be one of the largest cultural faux pas of Anglo-saxons when abroad? Without a doubt ordering a cappuccino after about 12 noon – especially after lunch or dinner. If you watch them very carefully (by them I mean the natives of course), that cup of espresso filled with foamy milk is a drink to be taken with one of the hundreds of types of sweet pastries in the morning (even if you decide to eat one of these pastries at around 4pm…they will accompany it with an espresso, never a cappuccino.) I believe it has something to do with drinking milk in the afternoon – which is only acceptable for children….and maybe if you are pregnant. They are the same way about eggs in the morning. Two sunny side up, bacon, toast and orange juice does not excite them the way a bombolone filled with cream does – but then don’t try to explain to them that the creama that fills the bombolone (a cream puff like pastry and very delectable) is made mostly of egg.
Perhaps the second faux pas that many foreigners make when it comes to Italians and their coffee, is that when they say let’s go get an espresso, they literally mean “let’s go get an espresso”. It is so not cool to go to the bar and order a cup of water while they gulp down their espresso. Or you go to your in-laws house and the mother starts to prepare coffee…well even if you just gulped one down con amici at the bar, you WILL sit down and drink another one. Accepting a cup of coffee is showing your solidarity with friends and is a sign of good education with your elders. These are the little things they don’t tell in Fodors but after 20 years of inter cultural mingling I can assure you that though un-written these rules are well consolidated.