This month it’ll be ten years since I first went to Italy. My sister and I went to Rome with her boyfriend (now her husband) to meet his family. It was, as Anne of Green Gables would have said, an epoch in my life. Not only did I get to see the Eternal City, I also got introduced to, and fell in love with, coffee the Italian way. And as is usually the case with me and food, there’s a story behind it.
We’ll call this one, “Filipino Canadian West Coast Bumpkin Meets Sleek, Smart, Sophisticated Italian.”
Our first morning in Rome, we woke to sunshine, fresh breezes blowing into the apartment, and the table set for breakfast. At my place I found a large mug, and directly in front of me, the cutest little coffee pot I ever did see.
On the table there was also a pitcher of steamed milk. So I thought, “Oh, they must have their morning coffee just like the South Americans do. Lots of hot milk.”
So I poured milk into my mug, added all the coffee there was in the pot, and – after an eye-popping first sip – two or three spoonfuls of sugar.
A few minutes later, my sister’s future father-in-law joined us at the table. The first thing he did was reach for the (empty) coffeepot.
He held the coffeepot expectantly over his cup, which I now ntoiced was way smaller than mine – smaller, even, than a demitasse. When nothing came out of the spout, he frowned a bit and tilted it a bit more. Then he looked over at me, and then from my guilt-stricken, embarrassed face, to my coffee cup. He didn’t look annoyed, he looked amazed.
He said, “You like coffee.”
By this time his younger son, Francesco, was in fits of laughter. All throughout the day he kept grinning at me, making owl-eyes and remarks about how I was going to sleep that night.
I slept excellently well, thank you very much.
After I got over my faux pas, I never enjoyed a cup of coffee more. Unknowingly I had made myself a cappuccino, minus the foam. The flavour was unlike any coffee I had ever had: rich and strong, but not bitter.
I had many cups of espresso – with or without milk – throughout those two weeks in Rome, and as you’ve probably guessed, I went home with my very own little Bialetti, a set of pretty little espresso cups, dainty as a child’s tea-set, and a package or two of my host’s coffee of choice, Lavazza, which happily I’ve been able to find in Canada.
I’m onto my second Bialetti now. (These little wonders are also available in Canada. In Vancouver, check out The Gourmet Warehouse or Bosa.) Small, quiet, unassuming, and amazingly efficient, it’s my best friend in the morning. Sometimes I have quick shots of espresso, sometimes I add it to hot milk. The first sip always takes me back to breakfast in Italy, to the cat on the sunny balcony and the wind in the cypress trees. In a strange sort of way it wakes me up and slows me down at the same time…the secret of life, I think, that the Italians have learned and perfected, and the rest of us can only imitate.