Of the Italian commitment to exceptional coffee

I have just spent a little over a week roaming Italy in a little rented Renault with two friends (let’s just call them ‘Marc’ and ‘Mary’ to protect their anonymity).* We can now boast a large number of visits to the beaches on both the Mediterranean and Adriatic coasts. We can also boast hours and hours of zooming around winding cliff-side roads (first in Puglia and then Salerno). We sipped Brunello in Tuscany and tasted olive oil everywhere. We sang in a sea cave. We sat on verandas overlooking red rooftops and swinging bougainvillea.

In between all of this, of course, was the sizable chunk of time we spent on the autostrada. Sloping, curved roads and small Italian towns are endlessly charming. The autostrada is not. It’s just your average fast-paced automobile fare. There is one key difference, though, between the long-distance car travel I’ve done in the U.S. and what I’ve now done here in Italy. It’s all about espresso.

Every twenty kilometers or so along the highway you can pull off to a gas station or an ‘autogrill’ and when you do, inside, no matter how small the place is or how dingy, there will be a counter at which to order perfectly pulled espresso shots, cappuccini, macchiati… Its roadside coffee porn. Let it be known, too, that the rich, deep brown-nearly-black stuff is always served in a porcelain demitasse resting on a saucer with an appropriately sized stirring spoon sitting alongside the cup. It feels a little bit like stumbling into a 7/11 to pick up a few blinis smothered with caviar and créme fraiche. I’ve never had such amazing espresso in my life and I certainly never imagined one could go just about anywhere in Italy, including a truckstop, to get it.

Let it be known, too, that the commitment to exceptional coffee is, apparently, universal throughout the country. I stayed for a night with a fabulous Italian family in Cecina and the lady of the house (who, yes, made me homemade carbonara and ragu and stuffed zucchini and fileto di carne and oh god so much food I could barely move when the final course of fresh fruit arrived) had no fewer than ten stove-top espresso makers. All different sizes, colors, shapes.

Italy is a wonderland of thick, inky espresso. Would that we in the less culinarily adept countries would learn what they take here as a matter of course.


*This is little protection. Their names are actually Marc and Mary.

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