Walking around Bologna during Christmastime is like entering a Thomas Kinkaid painting; everything is quaint and mass produced. Streets lined with bright twinkling lights—check, tinsel covered street lamps—check, chestnuts roasting on an open fire—check, shops overflowing with jolly smiling Santa Clauses next to praying Virgin Mary statues—check. Snow on the other hand seems to have invaded every city but ours, despite the cold that creeps through the cracks of my windows causing me to bundle in layers and waddle around like a penguin in my apartment. One thing that always warms me up during these cold Bolognese mornings and nights is a nice cup of coffee brewed straight from the little metal mocha in our pantry.
Before coming to Italy I never drank coffee, in fact I hated it. So when people told me that the coffee in Italy is like no place else, I had to take their word for it. I find it ironic that a girl who disliked coffee, pizza, ice cream, and smoking decided to move to a place known for its pizza and gelato, and where everyone drinks coffee and smokes. But after four months here I have learned to adapt. Realizing that my original plan to swear off guys who smoked eliminated about 99.9% of the Italian population, I’ve decided to let that bad habit slide, and thanks to a house full of roommate smokers I can actually stand being in a room filled with cigarette smoke without holding my breath. I have officially converted into a coffee drinker, with my twice a day cappuccinos, three if I’m feeling especially worthy, but still play my tourist card when ordering an espresso on a cold afternoon—coffee in the afternoon is a cultural taboo.
Unlike in the US where coffee culture is dominated by Starbuck’s Venti cup caramel infused double shot, machippucinofrapiatos, in Italy simplicity seems to be the secret art of coffee. Here when one asks for coffee they get a shot of espresso in a quaint little cup. If you want to spice things up a bit you can upgrade to a macchiato which is an espresso with a dollop of schiuma (milk foam) on top, or a cappuccino, which is just a larger version of a macchiato. Then there’s my favorite, the latte macchiato, which is a shot of espresso in a glass of hot milk aka Italian’s version of my childhood favorite Cuban concoction: café con leche. But the true magic of Italy’s coffee lies in a mini metal espresso brewing machine called a mocha. This is what takes the same South American coffee beans used all over the world, and transforms them into delicious Italian elixir.
I can remember being little and wanting to drink a cup of coffee as a symbol of being a “grown-up,” like those kids who always want a sip of wine only to find their taste buds squirming with tartness. Now here I am strangely proud that I’ve developed this unhealthy habit, feeling a tad older in some silly way to have outgrown my bitter taste buds, and knowing that every time I have a sip of espresso it’ll be like having a little bit of Italy running through my veins.