In my opinion Italian coffee is one of the best ways to illustrate the Italian way of life and la bella vita. In Italy quality is given much more importance than quantity, Italy still hasn’t fallen into the imperialistic idea that bigger is better, but still holds on to quality being the ultimate goal.
ITALIAN COFFEE & LA BELLA VITA
I think it is obvious why coffee illustrates this so perfectly. In America —as most of the world— coffee is a large watered down beverage that is pretty cheap to produce and purchase. In fact it is also extremely easy to make a cup, which can be done without any special machinery, i.e., you can just boil coffee grinds in water and get a “good cup of joe” like the cowboys did in the wild west… As far as the size goes there seems to be no limit, the size of coffee cups are only limited to the size of the cup holders in cars —which keep getting bigger— and even then a lot of them just don’t fit!
Contrast that with an Italian coffee, also known as espresso (if you ask for a cafe normale in Italy you get an espresso). The machinery needed to produce it is akin to a craftsman’s tools, very beautiful and intricate ones. The roasting and grinding of the beans in itself is an art that needs special attention. A good barista takes the process of making a shot of espresso very seriously and once you understand the way it should taste so will you!
As far as size goes… A quick glance at the typically huge Styrofoam cups that most convenience stores and gas stations sell compared to an eloquent shot of espresso in a traditional ceramic demitasse says it all! The main reason for the difference in size is that Cafe Americano —as it is called in Italy— is very, very watered down! In Napoli they call it aqua sporca, literally “dirty water”.
Finding the Perfect Snack to Combine with your COFFEE:
Coffee can be enhanced by what it is eaten with. A typical high end bar in most Southern Italian cities will give you a fine chocolate along with your espresso. Others will have some complimentary fresh baked treats on the bar counter to accompany your espresso.
There are several “perfect” combinations and I hope to provide recipes and links for a growing number of them here on my site. I’ll would like to start with a surprising find. Surprising because it is actually of French origin :-).
This site obviously concentrates on Italian food and culture, and as much as the French at times irritate me I have to admit that they are pretty good chefs and they do know quite a bit about coffee.
NAPOLI THE COFFEE CAPITAL OF ITALY
Napoli is probably the city in Italy that takes coffee the most seriously. In Naples all coffee bars that I tried were excellent, I never found one that wasn’t—and I drank a lot of coffee in the years that I lived there! Of course if a bad coffee bar were to open it would have to shut down immediately since all Neapolitans know what good coffee is and would refuse to spend their money there. Interestingly Starbucks doesn’t exist in Napoli…
I still remember the first time that I tried to get a cafe americano in Naples for an American friend that was visiting me. The barista shrunk up his nose in disgust and said that he didn’t know how to make one. I knew he did, but I explained it just the same, big mistake! The barista almost threw is out of the bar when I told him to adulterate his espresso with a cup of hot water! My friend settled for a triple espresso in order to get the volume of liquid that he thought he needed 🙂
My favorite bar in Napoli was just around the corner from my apartment in the Quartieri Spagnoli. There was nothing better than waking up in the morning and walking down to enjoy a cappuccino and cornetto stuffed with Nutella! The barista, Ernesto, was very particular about his coffee and usually topped off his cappuccinos with some latte art, sometimes with help of cacao… He surprised many that returned for the first time not only by remembering their name, but by writing it on top of their cappuccino with melted chocolate.
I have tried to duplicate some of his art over the years, it is quite enjoyable! I wish I could have gotten some videos of him, but that was before we all had cameras on our cellphones 🙁
Below is a great video for anyone that is interested in learning latte art or just curious about it:
This next video is amazing! When I first saw a picture of 3d latte art I thought it was photoshopped, however, as I looked into it I saw that it is in fact very real an not all that hard to do! Watch the video below if you are curious about how it is done and/or if you want to try it out yourself!
I plan on writing several future posts later on about latte art and including some tips from the pros…
IS STARBUCK’S ITALIAN?
The short answer is: NO! Starbucks is not Italian! In fact Italy is one of the only european countries that doesn’t have any Starbucks in it. The Italians would never pay the prices, and if they did they would protest against the quality!
Update: Starbucks has recently started to attempt its entry into Italy, they have of course greatly modified the way they do things, only time will tell if they will make it in Italy or not…
I must admit, however, that I am grateful to Starbuck’s for making espresso and cappuccino better known and popular here in America! Although, to compare a Starbucks to an Italian coffee bar would be like comparing McDonalds to an authentic steakhouse. There is no comparison!
This having been said, Starbucks does have some great dessert drinks! Just don’t try to order them in Italy, if you ask an Italian barista for a grande pumpkin spice latte there’s no telling what he would do!
Below is a great video that teaches you to make 10 of these drinks at home, they are a whole lot cheaper and a whole lot better too!
ESPRESSO & CAPPUCCINO MACHINES ONLINE
The hardest thing for me when I moved from Italy to NY was finding good coffee! I tried very hard to find a good coffee bar. Starbucks were everywhere, but the high prices, low quality, and the teenage baristas that didn’t know what they were doing made me decide not to go back.
I finally realized that I would have to become my own barista, and that is what I did! I have experimented with all kinds of espresso machines and I would like to share with you what I found:
Below are some links and descriptions of some of my favorite choices for truly enjoying good coffee anywhere! I plan on continuing to scour the internet in order to find and provide you with high quality items at bargain prices. For now I’m sure you will enjoy taking a look at the selection below!
If you are interested the art of espresso machines then look no further. This is my favorite machine for making an authentic cappuccino. Not only does it perform well, it is also beautiful!
This “Made in Italy” machine is amazing, and the price is very reasonable for what you get. Not to mention it has authentic old-world style!
This is the real thing, and only for those who are serious about the art of coffee making!
There is something about the lever-model machines that adds such style, not to mention the unique quality that they always seem to produce!
This Lever-model espresso machine makes up to 16 2-ounce cups of espresso it has a 38-ounce solid-brass boiler that delivers fast heat-up times; internal thermostat. The beautiful Rosewood handles… (Click here to see more details and reviews)
This is another reasonably priced, but very high quality machine! The Pro 500 has a one-piece steel frame and is housed entirely in mirror finished stainless steel, giving it a solid and beautiful appearance and feel.
Renowned for its contributions to maintaining temperature stability in professional grade espresso machines, the E61 group head rests like a crown on the Pro 500. Constantly heated with water from the thermosyphon system, the solid brass E61 also features a pre-infusion cylinder to wet your grounds with low pressure water prior to brewing to aid… (Click here to see more details and reviews)
This espresso machine saved my life when I first moved to New York! Although I still prefer Pavoni to anything else for my homemade espresso, sometimes you just don’t have time to get it going and clean it up.
That is why this machine is great!
I have to admit that I have always been very against coffee pods, however, the Swiss made pods changed my mind forever! This is a must for any espresso lover, it faithfully creates a very high quality shot every time! It does in just a few seconds and without making a mess!
The frother is also surprisingly good. For the best cappuccino using this frother I recommend using half and half, which gives it a creamier taste, similar to some of the coffee bars in Napoli!)
When I first heard about this I couldn’t believe it! Imagine being able to make a fresh shot of espresso right in your own car! No more searching for a Starbucks and hoping that the “barista” knows what they are doing!
Just plug it in to your cigarette lighter and make a shot right in your car! The machine fits right into your cup holder!
I always enjoyed taking a couple of shots of espresso with me when I spend a day on the Lake or in the mountains, however, this is a much better option that I discovered! Simply fill the thermos with hot water and put the beautiful carrying case in your backpack.
When you are ready for a fresh shot of espresso you can make it in just a few seconds, no electricity required!