Friday, April 30, 2010

How to Do Coffee Italian Style...




Don't want to be taken for a tourist? Then don't be heard ordering a latte after lunch, writes Lee Marshall for The Age Traveller.
Coffee is so much a part of Italian culture, the idea of not drinking it is as foreign as the idea of having to explain its rituals. These rituals are set in stone and not always easy for outsiders to understand. As in any self-respecting cult, they are made deliberately hard to comprehend, so that the initiated can recognise each other over the bar counter without the need for a curious handshake (which would only lead to stubborn cappuccino stains).
Some might object that the Italian coffee cult is now a worldwide church with branches in London, Dubai and Bora Bora. But while the Arabica coffee blend is often perfect, the cups just the right size and shape, the machines as "Made in Italy" as they come, Italian coffee bars outside Italy almost always adapt to the host culture - just like the vast majority of Chinese restaurants outside China. If you take your cue from your local high-street espresso purveyor, you risk straying from the True Path on arrival in Italy.
Here, then, for those who fancy going native in true Lorenzo of Arabica style, are the Ten Commandments of Il Culto del Caffe.
1 Thou shalt drink only cappuccino, caffe latte, latte macchiato or any milky form of coffee in the morning - and never after a meal. Italians cringe at the thought of all that hot milk hitting a full stomach. An American friend who has lived in Rome for many years continues, knowingly, to break this rule. But she has learnt, at least, to apologise to the barista.
2 Thou shalt not muck around with coffee. Requesting a mint frappuccino in Italy is like asking for a single-malt whisky and lemonade with a swizzle stick in a Glasgow pub. There are but one or two regional exceptions that have the blessing of the general coffee synod. In Naples, you can order un caffe alla nocciola - a frothy espresso with hazelnut cream. In Milan, impress the locals by asking for un marocchino, a sort of upside-down cappuccino, served in a small glass and sprinkled with cocoa powder, hit with a blob of frothed milk, then spiked with a shot of espresso.
3 Which reminds me, thou shalt not use the word espresso. This a technical term in Italian, not an everyday one. Espresso is the default setting and single is the default dose; a single espresso is simply known as un caffe.
4 Thou can order un caffe doppio (a double espresso) if thou likest but be aware that this is not an Italian habit. Italians do drink a lot of coffee but they do so in small, steady doses.
5 Thou shalt head confidently for the bar, call out thine order, even if the barista has his back to you, and pay afterwards at the till.
6 If it's an airport or station bar or a tourist place where the barista screams "ticket" at thee, thou shalt, if thou can bear the ignominy, pay before thou consumest.
7 Thou shalt not sit down unless thou hast a very good reason. Coffee is a pleasurable drug, but a drug nevertheless, and should be downed in one, standing. Would thou sit down at a pavement table to take thy daily Viagra?
8 Thou shouldst expect thy coffee to arrive at a temperature at which it can be downed immediately as per the previous commandment. If thou preferest burning thy lips and tongue or blowing the froth off thy cappuccino in a vain attempt to cool it down, thou shouldst ask for un caffe bollente.
9 Thou shall be allowed the following variations, and these only, from the Holy Trinity of caffe, cappuccino and caffe latte: caffe macchiato or latte macchiato - an espresso with a dash of milk or a hot milk with a dash of coffee (remember, mornings only); caffe corretto: the Italian builder's early-morning pick-me-up, an espresso "corrected" with a slug of brandy or grappa; and caffe freddo or cappuccino freddo (iced espresso or cappuccino) - but beware, this usually comes pre-sugared. Thou mayst also ask for un caffe lungo or un caffe ristretto if thou desirest more or less water in thine espresso.
10 Anything else you may have heard is heresy.

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