For Italians, coffee is culture
I’m going to tell you a charming story about how coffee and I became allies. I was a senior in high school and one of the senior leaders for my school’s culinary program. My culinary teacher, a hyperactive mess of coffee and natural-born energy, made a large thermos of coffee daily for all the students, which was incredibly kind of him, once I look back on it (coincidentally, my favorite professors and teachers always offered free food of some kind, like my Shakespeare professor who dubbed Thursdays “Bagel Thursdays” this past semester and bought the whole class bagels weekly).
I, however, was a natural-born tea drinker. It is in my Indian blood. I have been drinking chai tea literally since I can remember. As a child, my mom would dilute it with milk, but she was obviously concerned with the motivation that her daughter would like chai tea until she died (or went to University, which is what actually happened). She or my dad would be sure to wake up before I did just so they could make the whole house chai tea in the morning. And if you caught my mom without chai tea…
Well, the garage was always a good option.
But anyway, the point is that I wasn’t a huge coffee person. But one day, I guess I was running low on energy because I decided to drink a cup of coffee. My culinary teacher caught me, did a double take, and the expression on his face molded into a comical mask of happiness. Keep in mind, if you ever asked my teacher how much coffee he’d had throughout the course of the day, he’d usually respond with “Oh, I think I lost count at a gallon.”
“Juhie,” he said to me. “Are you drinking coffee?”
“Well, yes,” I said casually.
“EVERYBODY COME LOOK,” he shouted to the class. “JUHIE’S DRINKING COFFEE AND LOOK AT HER SHE LOOKS SO PERFECT, LIKE A NATURAL-BORN COFFEE DRINKER IT’S FANTASTIC.”
And I kid you not, the whole class huddled around to watch me drink my coffee. This is how we became friends, coffee and I.
But let’s flash-forward to now, exactly 14 days before I leave for Italy.
Thanks to my former RA’s Netflix (funnily enough, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know that I’m using his account) I’ve been able to watch a couple of foodie documentaries. One documentary, The Perfect Cappuccino traces a woman’s search for the perfect cappuccino. Unfortunately, she gets incredibly sidetracked and the documentary ends up being an investigation of Starbucks. But the parts about Italy are fascinating. Amy Ferraris researches the origins of the cappuccino. Although the general consensus is that nobody knows who invented the cappuccino, in typical Italian fashion, one man she interviewed in Italy jokingly claims that he invented the cappuccino.
It’s also fun to listen to her interviews with Italian baristas and try to get the gist of what they’re saying. For those who are practicing a language, watching for culture is scratching the surface, but trying to really understand the interviews is important!
But it’s apparent that in Italy, coffee is a way of life. Sitting down and reading the daily Repubblica while nestling a real espresso so passionated coaxed from a tempestuous Italian machine is a dream of mine, and I look forward to spending many evenings as such with my Italian nonna.
As my favorite food magazine La Cucina Italiana eloquently explains, for Italians, coffee is culture. So become cultured!
P.S. In the comments, tell me about your relationship with coffee! Would you describe your feelings toward coffee as bitter? Why or why not? When did you begin to drink coffee?