In Italy, il caffe, expertly prepared, is more than just a cup of coffee, it is a religious experience.
In the neighborhood cafe, (called a bar) daily life begins with a cacophony of sounds. With perfect timing and in symphonic harmony, the hissing of the milk steamer, tapping of filters being emptied, the clattering of small cups and saucers, and the clinking of little spoons, are all orchestrated by the maestro, himself, the barista.
After, paying the cassa (cashier) and receiving a receipt for your elixir of choice, squeeze up to the bar and in-between the litany of requests for caffe, (espresso) cappuccino, (espresso infused with steamed milk) and doppio, ( double espresso) you place your order.
Whether the barista is looking at you or not, with confidence and in a voice loud enough to be heard, say what you’d like as if you’ve been going there all your life! Magically, (even though you’d swear your order was not acknowledged) a saucer will be placed in front of you with the tiny spoon, symbolizing your coffee is being prepared.
While standing at the bar, in the midst of the heavenly robust aroma of caffeine, the spirited chatter of devout clientele, does not go unnoticed. Passionate conversations of soccer scores, the weather, food, their last meal or the next, fosters this daily human connection.
Bearing witness to this seemingly simple, yet powerful reverent morning meeting, one cannot help but feel alive with a renewed sense of energy (it’s not just the coffee).
This ritual morning coffee communion, taken at the barista’s altar is as essential to the daily Italian routine as the evening passagiata (evening stroll) after the family meal.
The preparation and consumption of “il caffe” is an art, an art that Italians have perfected!
The Ten Commandments of il Caffe or How to enjoy coffee like an Italian.
1) Thou shall use (with confidence) the proper Italian terms when ordering the sacred brew.
Un caffe-an espresso, (very strong coffee in very small cups) topped with a caramel-colored foam, called “crema.”
Caffe Lungo-a long coffee. The barista will let the water pour from the espresso machine until the coffee becomes bitter and weak. This is known as Caffe Americano, (American coffee) which Italians simply refer to as “dirty water.”
Caffe Ristretto-a “restricted” coffee, espresso with less water, concentrated but not bitter (rocket fuel).
Caffe Correcto-coffee “corrected” with a shot of grappa, cognac or sambuca.
Caffe Macchiato-an espresso “stained” with a drop of steamed milk.
Cappuccino–(named after Cappuccini monks because of the color of their hoods)-espresso infused with steamed milk (equal portions of espresso, milk and foam).
Caffe Latte–espresso with hot milk.
Caffe con panna–espresso with sweet whipped cream.
Caffe Hag–decafinated espresso (Hag is the largest producer of Italian decaf).
Caffe Shakerato-an espresso “shaken up” with ice and sugar (an icy summer drink).
2) Thou shall drink cappuccino only in the morning hours (unless you want to look like tourist) and never after a meal (Italians strongly believe that milk interferes with the digestion of food).
3) Thou shall not ask the barista for a flavored foo-foo drink (this is not Starbucks, there are no caramel macchiatos here).
4) Thou shall never order an espresso, (which is a technical term) rather ask for “un caffe.” (the correct way to ask for an espresso).
5) Thou shall always go to the cassa (cashier) to pay for sacred beverage, before ordering.
6) Thou shall not sit down to consume your morning elixir. One does not linger over un caffe, the cups are small for a reason.(The cost is double to sit at a table, leave them for the tourist).
7) Thou shall not expect un caffe to be hot when it is served (so as not to burn thyself, it will be the perfect temperature to drink quickly, as is customary).
8) Thou shall expect to be served a glass of milk when ordering a latte (Italian for milk).
9) Thou shall always properly thank the maestro, (barista) he is your new best friend.
10) Thou shall never ever ask, “Where is the nearest Starbucks?” (There are none in Italy). Thank Heaven!