A Simple Cup of Joe~

un caffe - Beyond the Pasta - Mark Leslie

“How about a warmer upper?”

I have a very nostalgic view of coffee, “java,” ‘joe” or whatever nickname you use.  Mention the word “coffee” or any of its slang derivatives and I immediately imagine something that has been perked in an aluminum pot over a gas flame early in the morning and served in a creamware mug – with or without a matching saucer.

When you are a child, smells and sounds seem to be more intense than visual stimulus alone. Waking up, under a heavy blanket, hearing the weez, hiss and perk of the pot on the stove coming from the kitchen, combined with the nutty aroma of the grounds as they were being seeped with hot water is something that one does not soon forget. I remember getting out of bed, in my pajamas, and wandering into my grandparents’ kitchen to see the brown liquid shoot up in spurts into the glass knob on the top of the perking pot. There was something magical about it.

Of course, I was never given coffee to drink at that age and, yet, that is still the first image that comes to mind when someone mentions “the black stuff” or if I smell it being freshly brewed.

In college when I was doing summer stock theatre, it became a late-night ritual for all of us on the tech staff to go to the local truck stop and order coffee with a big ole American-style breakfast. I have some kind of fascination with seeing a hard-working waitress slide a ceramic mug of bitter, overly brewed coffee toward me and ask, “Honey, you want cream with that?”

Honestly, I am not a big coffee drinker. Sorry to disappoint, but I am not. I know, “how can you be a foodie and not worship at the feet of the roasted bean?” I do enjoy coffee after a big meal, but you will rarely find me having a cup of coffee in the morning. In fact, I use the coffeemaker at home more to brew tea for iced tea than for coffee. I know, some of you are clutching your hearts in horror – it’s okay. Be brave. Coraggio!

In Italy, you will not find scores of people walking around holding a “grande” with the latest flavor concoction or with a frappuccino on a hot day. Coffee or caffè in Italy is a different type of experience. You can enter a bar or almost any little food shop and get un caffè, which is what we Americans would call a single shot of espresso. In Italy, you get charged to sit at a table – it covers the cost of the linens on the table – so when only ordering un caffè you stand at the long counter, drink your shot of espresso, and go – only paying for the coffee and not the table service. It is kind of a quick hit and run. The image of an Italian standing at a counter and drinking un caffè is as classic as a vineyard in Tuscany.


Also, Italians only drink un cappuccino early in the morning – never after 10:00a.m.. Want to peg yourself as a tourist? Order a cappuccino at three o’clock in the afternoon and watch the Italian eyes roll. Nothing says “foreigner” to an Italian more than a late afternoon cappuccino order! Order un caffè corretto (a correct coffee) and you will find a shot of liqueur in with your espresso. What a way to wake up! There are many different ways to have coffee in Italy, each with its particular twist on the single shot of espresso.

I long for the day when I can turn to an Italian waiter, after a fantastic meal, and say, “Vorrei un caffè, per favore,” and not be asked in return, “Caffè Americano o espresso?” Regardless of how good my Italian is, once an American, always an American – especially with regards to un caffè!

Hmmm, I wonder what kind of response I’d get from a waiter if I ordered: “Vorrei una cuppa di Giuseppe semplice, per favore.” Maybe I’ll just stick to saying, “Un espresso. Grazie.”

A presto~