Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The International Coffee Break

Have you ever wandered into an espresso bar and innocently ordered a single espresso to go, only to be met with a mildly repressed scowl by your barista? Granted, your willing server is only looking out for you - please do not take their reaction (it's uncontrollable, I assure you) personally. The thing is, they probably just want you to appreciate the ritual. Take a break. Relax.
Have you ever wondered what exactly those bar stools we have set up along our counter are for? Aside from unwitting late comers on a Friday or Saturday night who can't manage to find a table? It's for YOU, dear single espresso drinkers! Shocking, I realize, but we want you to pull up a chair, have a chat, or just do the ever popular "stand and lean" move against the bar as you enjoy your mid day coffee.
The thing is, the first time I went to Europe it was to Italy - just like every other American. I'd been to Ireland and Asia previously, but Italy was my first foray into the wilds of Traditional Coffee Culture. I'd flown overnight into Milan and landed at approximately 9 am their time - aka "Sarah's way overdue for a coffee" time. I bolted to the nearest cafe and was absolutely astounded at the number of people hanging out at the bar, just drinking their coffees, reading papers...hanging out with absolutely no semblance of needing or wanting to go anywhere else. Where were the throngs of people on their way to work?? Where were the giant lattes and cappuccinos I'd become so versed in pouring back home??
Then, I realized...Europe was different.
I'm fairly convinced that we, Americans, are the only culture obsessed with cramming as much as we possibly can into a work day. My Italian culture shock was firmly in place by the time everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) shut down for a few hours in the middle of the day. My frustration at sleeping in on vacation only to wake up realizing I'd slept right through cafes being open for morning business never abated, and I found myself hauling out of bed as soon as I hit consciousness just so I could be in time for the best breads, pastries, and espresso.
It's just a different world. And, now that I've returned (to Spain, this time) and realized they have the exact same mentality, just with more booze, I came home desperately clinging to the hope that we too can participate in the beauty of what it truly means to take a coffee break.
So may I offer a suggestion? It's way cheaper to swing by a coffee shop and cozy up to the bar with your coffee than booking a flight on Alitalia. We have demitasse for a reason! Enjoy it! I swear, your day will be a little better if you take a whopping ten minutes and clear your head of the abrasive glow from your computer screen. This way, when you do get to take that vacation, you'll be able to stroll into espresso bar of your choice and revel in the notion that you too, know how to kick back like the Italians.

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