I mean, do you expect me to get started without a shot of espresso or two?

So, here’s the thing: in Italy, I grew up drinking coffee. Italian coffee is strong – made with either an espresso machine, or this cute coffee maker that we call moka. We can have a hundred variations, black, made with more or less water, with milk, foam, whipped cream, but we like it quite strong. For Italian coffee drinkers, that’s the hardest thing to adjust to abroad. We go on a painful search for a ‘good’ coffee, and inevitably we come across many places that do have a good espresso machine, but the coffee turns out too watery, too bitter, or burnt.

For me, coffee has been a whole discovery over these years away from home. When I left Italy, my idea was that coffee has to be strongcheap and quick. That last one is quite important: our skilled barista processes everyone’s crazy individual preference all at once and creates these perfect cups of awesome in seconds; we tend to have it at the counter, the times we sit down to drink our coffee are usually when we are catching up with friends.

Elsewhere, I found that coffee wasn’t going to be as cheap (Anywhere in Italy you can have coffee and a pastry for the price of either thing in London). Or quick. The fastest baristas still seem slow to me, compared to Italian standards. And there’s not much drinking at the counter quickly. If it’s not take away coffee, you are usually expected to sit down and hang for a while. I get slightly worried looks when I order espresso. ‘Yes, single’. (Why isn’t ‘single’ the default option? Why do they have to ask ‘single or double’? I would have said ‘double espresso’ if I wanted an extra shot, right?) Sometimes they pause and ask, ‘are you sure?’, and explain that an espresso is only little… just a shot… I admit that really, there isn’t much to do once you have finished your drink in a minute and you are sitting on your own in a coffee shop. Why did I even sit down in the first place, I could have ordered it to take away. But then it would have come in a paper cup, and that’s a bit sad, and wasteful. But soon I realized there’s a whole world of things I could be doing while I’m in a coffee shop. Look at all these people, chilling, reading books, studying, working on their laptops.. or even having naps, if you are in Japan! Long coffee breaks seemed to go well with my irregular schedule at the time, and the thought that a nice coffee shop is a better place to read/study/create than a tiny bedroom. I got used to it. These days, I like to draw at a coffee shop. Or to sketch, and brainstorm ideas. On a relaxed weekend afternoon, or a happy break after work. And it doesn’t matter if it’s past 6pm and the place has switched from daytime mode to dinner-or-drinks mode, and there are candles on the tables and people drinking wine, and the staff is going to get even more confused by my choice of drink, I am still going to order coffee. Because,

6pmcoffee
photo and graphics by me, coffee from Caravan, Exmouth Market

 

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