Milk in Italian cappuccinos is creamier than back home. As I unfurl my arms in the morning sun at Piazza Farnese, I notice a foamy heart that swirls at the surface of my caffe macchiato. Creamy and full of none of that special oat milk nonsense I had back home. Landing in Rome to pursue my obsession with the Italian language just shy of two years ago, the hipster in me recoiled at the deplorable lack of coffee art on my latte (be careful not to order a latte as it just means “milk”). Why is it so hard to make my caffeinated beverage look aesthetically pleasing?
In my first few weeks I flitted from bar to bar (cafe in Italian) in search of a complex Arabica roast and swirling swans to adorn my mug. To my dismay, nothing seemed to satisfy my ever augmented desire for a “proper latte”. The worst part of this distinct lack of cultural pandering to the anglo expat? The takeaway is taboo! Speaking to a close Italian friend of mine about the lack of Starbucks-eque takeaways the size of my head, he simply explained that coffee is, in Italy, a matter of culture.
“What is wrong with a takeaway?” I demanded, my voice wavering in nostalgia for a paper cup with a plastic lid.
“In your culture, everybody is always rushing around, running madly from one meeting to the next. Here, drinking coffee is a pleasure- an indulgence of the senses.”
In Italy, coffee is a moment. A physical removal from your daily grind to recharge. It is not about the swirling artistic shapes that you painstakingly photgraph with a sepia filter to affirm your hispter status. It is about enjoying the decedant milk in your cappuccino the floats like a cloud in your mouth. Put simply, it is about carving out a moment to stop.
That said, don’t linger for too long. Italian coffee drinking is not like melting into a chair for a few hours at Starbucks; it is all about the “bar”. Cafe in Italian is literally “bar” (no fancy words ending in a dramatic vowel) and, in order to avoid the table service charge, you simply stand at a bar, one that we English-speakers associate with picking up people before the days of online dating, and sip your coffee.
While I blast away at my keyboard, loitering, paying for table service because I am writing this piece, I admit that I do not always adhere to the Italian rules of coffee drinking. I still have a reusable takeaway cup that I force my barista to use; but I guess the acute knowledge that I’m flouting a social rule makes it all the more entertaining.
Un bacio x