Coffee, like a food, is meant for sharing. No matter if you prefer espresso or cappuccino, it’s better when enjoyed with someone else. What comes to mind when asked about coffee? I took a poll of my friends and Starbucks was a popular response. Coffee in the United States is a big thing, where big brands cultivate a cult following. Until I went on a quest to see Italy through the eyes of the Italians, I happily carried my paper cup from Starbucks or Peet’s around with me and felt so chic. Boy, did I have much to learn.
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Living amongst my Italian friends Salvatore and Marilu in a village above Positano, I quickly learned about Italian café. Espresso epitomizes the Italian café lifestyle. If I wanted to assimilate into the culture I needed to learn to love espresso…that being, a shot of intensely strong coffee served in a small demitasse-style cup. No sipping allowed; this is a shot.I arrived to work with Salvatore and Marilu on the 1st day at Il Ritrovo, where I was initiated into the café ritual. I asked for a cappuccino and they let it slide (mornings are the time cappuccino is acceptable). Luckily, one of the waiters took pity on me. He started me off with the cappuccino and lessened the foam every day until it was a petit cappuccino, which is an espresso topped with just a hint of foam, and biscotti to dunk into it. After a week or so I was OK with an espresso but by the time I left I was a pro. Now I love it and welcome the ritual. Yes, a sole shot of espresso—with no milk!
Il Ritrovo is the hub of activity on the square of Montepertuso. Mornings were hopping with Sylvana baking the cookies that were so popular and the espresso machine cranking. I can still hear the sound of it and smile remembering the buzz of activity as the villagers headed off to work. I can’t even count the number of cups I handed out along with a cookie or two alongside.
Visiting an Italian household in the morning or afternoon is an experience not to be missed. Greetings are exchanged, and everyone moves to the kitchen where espresso is prepared. It’s a time and place to sit and visit with one another. This is a bonding ritual and all Italians live by it. Even the little ones have their barley coffee when the adults indulge, then are slowly indoctrinated. By the time they reach their late teens they are guzzling the elixir.
Here at home I have adopted the ritual. My friends and family rolled their eyes at first but now they call to ask if they can stop by for a café. I pull out the stovetop espresso maker and lovingly make the small, strong gulp of café that hits your senses like a freight train. I feel so deliciously Italian to set out the cups, the demitasse spoons, make the espresso, then set it out with the bowl of sugar and a plate of cookies. Sometimes I’ll put out milk frothed in my Nespresso, but not with my Italian friend Lisa! I freely admit that I still enjoy my early morning cappuccino. Some things never change…Coffee, like a food, is meant for sharing. No matter if you prefer espresso or cappuccino, it’s better when enjoyed with someone else. Don’t forget to include the plate of biscotti!