Monday, January 16

Italian Espresso vs American Coffee...What not to order on your next trip to Italy

I grew up watching those Hogan's Heroes episodes ... they'd stand around...wishing for something hot and then spit out whatever it was they'd be served, usually coffee. BC Comics called it swill. With all that bad press, it's a wonder how any of us grew up to be coffee drinkers. And while I'll take an Illy Caffè Italian cappuccino over any coffee in all 50 states (okay...well maybe excluding New Orleans), when you happen upon a good cuppa...it's really not so bad.

But ask any Italian, and for as long as I can remember...they would wince at the mere thought of taking a sip from that horrid cup of "extra long" used bathwater...And this, I believe, is the true reason why Starbucks didn't make such a swift move into the Bel Paese. In all these years, I never really got into the down and murky dirtiness...to convince Italians otherwise. Who was I to explain that the real reason they were disgusted by Caffè Americano had nothing to do with American coffee? At all.

But then, I was talking to a friend's teenage son who had just come back from NYC. When I asked him what he liked about his trip he said..with a note of surprise in his voice, "I thought the coffee was amazing." While I also think his tastebuds were distracted from the idea of camping out on a plush sofa with freewifi at a a local Starbucks...versus downing a 1 inch high sip standing at a bar counter...I could see his point. Up til now, his version of Caffè Americano was basically the water that is left at the bottom of my Bialetti coffee pot -- after I've already bubbled up the contents and poured it into my cappuccino.

So after 25-odd years, I'm going to finally come clean for the Italian people, and...for all the unsuspecting American tourists who come to Italy - begging for a super long Caffè Americano:

No...An American Coffee is NOT the end result of an espresso machine that's forced to urinate all the leftover water, calcium deposits and murky espresso bean slime until it's a faint yellowish piddle flowing into your cup.
Baristas still seem to think that that's what we do in America. Just add water. Instead, American coffees are left to soak up their Burnt Sienna grounds...percolate, so to speak. [We actually get a bigger hit of caffeine than from a standard espresso because of that.] So..you try an American Coffee at your peril. You begin to beg for something that represents prehistoric swill.

Recently, an American couple breezed into one of the bars on the Appian Way and asked for a big ol' cuppa Joe to Go. They grabbed their Monster-sized cups (by espresso standards, anyway) and took off before I could warn them that what they ordered...wasn't quite an American brew. I found their (full) cups in a bin not much further along.

And so I've now come full circle on the Starbucks in Italy idea...Because, if you could actually serve up real American coffee...who knows? It might just catch on.