Something, actually, an abundance of things, about the experience of drinking coffee is just better in Italy than here in the US. Is it the fantastic flavor? Yes, that’s one reason, but not all. Oooh, what about the fact that there are gas stations with fully-fledged, long coffee bars just off the highway? YES. I have been fortunate enough to have experienced Italy’s true coffee dominance over America multiple times.
First, the flavor. The cappuccino, as well as the espresso macchiato, is delicious and smooth with its delicate foam. I have winced each time upon returning to the US, forcing myself to drink bitter Dunkin’ to wake up in the mornings.
Second, the delightful accoutrements! The Italian cafes I visited featured croissant-like pastries with a subtly sweet custard oozing out. The buttery flakiness and delectable cream pleasantly complement the warm nectar of the cappuccino. Ah yes, just a tad better than the classic American coffee-donut combination, in which the cloying donut and severely bitter coffee-bean-water amount to an unsavory aftertaste. At Genoa’s Caffetteria Orefici e Latteria Buonafede, a small low-ceiling, white-tiled cafe in a quiet, unassuming plaza with just an older man and girl as the staff, they served one spoonful of delicious melted dark chocolate and one of fluffy homemade clotted cream along with each cappuccino order. This was easily the best version of whipped cream I had ever tasted and might ever taste. My sister and I visited there every morning during our three days in Genoa that trip.
Third, the culture. In Italian coffee culture, the customer is to enjoy their coffee in a ceramic cup and saucer then and there, at the bar standing up in the company of (mostly) friendly baristas. NOT in an earth-killing plastic/styrofoam cup and brown cardboard wrapper thing while driving a car. Although the Italian cafe provides a hospitable environment, the Italians don’t lollygag there at the bar, but rather quickly consume their breakfast and exit with a “Ciao!” I recall my family’s conversations with the friendly baristas at Rome’s Caffe Camerino, where I was first blessed with the authentic Italian coffee experience. We walked there every morning during our five-day stay from our nearby apartment
Fourth, the price! Each cappuccino at most places is under 2 Euros. My sister’s and my daily breakfast in Genoa rounded to about 8 Euros total.
Fifth, the absence of Starbucks. I did not see any wretched Starbucks establishments or their ubiquitous plastic cups anywhere in Rome, for they simply are not there. In fact, Starbucks opened its first branch in Rome earlier this year, and I’m praying for its downfall. Or perhaps I don’t have to, for Italian cafes are superior in every way and will therefore quash any further Starbucks revenue, except for the occasional tourist rabble.
Sixth, the incredibly perfect off-the-highway gas station coffee shops! Yes, the delightful Italian coffee experience can be found not just in urban areas, but on the side of a highway too. I noticed these on my recent spring break trip to Rome with BC’s University Chorale, where we stopped on the way to each of our two day trips in Orvieto and Florence at an establishment called Chef Express. Chef Express is no ordinary gas station, but rather an oasis featuring a fully-fledged, long coffee bar with four baristas and plenty of cookies, chilled sodas, and even children’s toys. Even here, just off the highway, I observed Italians drinking their coffee at the bar standing up, not carrying it out the door in a plastic cup to drink while driving. The employees there handled our Chorale invasions with efficiency and ease. I joked with my friend, Campbell, about my dream to someday franchise a Chef Express with him and retire in the Italian countryside. Then, I could linger at my own coffee bar a little longer, content knowing that I wouldn’t have to experience mediocre (American) coffee again.
Cover Photo courtesy of The New York Times