I am standing there completely paralyzed, sweat is forming on my brow. I can feel my heart racing and I’m not sure which direction to go or who I can call to for help. I want to turn and run but the crowd behind me is pushing me forward. I feel trapped, scared, confused, disoriented…I don’t know what to do…
…Do I pay first and then order? Or, do I order, go back to the cashier, pay and then give my receipt to the Barista? If I order first and want to sit down at a table, do I wait for my coffee at the counter and then carry it there myself or order and then expect the Barista to bring it to me and pay on my way out?
The Italian Coffee Bar: An institution, a meeting place, a culture unto itself and a complete enigma! As far as I can tell, there are no hard and fast rules – kind of like irregular Italian verbs – you can’t always get an explanation of when to apply them. It’s intuitive – a subtle sense that develops over time and with a lot of “trial and error”. In my case, mostly “error”. Why on earth can’t I figure this out? I mean, I am reasonably intelligent – I went to college for God’s sake! I can certainly manage to order a coffee in Italy. How hard can it be? Well… apparently pretty hard.
Here is a short list of coffee drinks you can order at a neighborhood Italian bar: Caffe’ (espresso), Caffe’ Americano (watered-down espresso in a large cup), Cappuccino (espresso with steam milk on top), Caffe’ Corretto (espresso with a shot of liquor), Caffe’ Freddo (espresso cold), Hag (decaf espresso), Caffe’ Latte (half espresso, half steamed milk), Caffe’ Lungo (espresso made with more hot water), Macchiato (espresso with a dollop of cream – hot or cold), Caffe’ Ristretto (stronger espresso), Shakerato (espresso, milk, sugar, and ice, shaken), Caffe D’Orzo (espresso made with barley), and Cioccolata Calda (hot chocolate)…just to name a few. See, easy.
Until I am fully versed in coffee protocol, I have found a way to cope with my incompetency and the stress that comes with it – I limit myself to a couple of bars in town that I am familiar and comfortable with…I know the owners, they know me and their system is clear (and they give me the locals’ price). Honestly, I can’t bear to see one more Barista’s look of disgust when I break the cardinal rule of Italian coffee-taking: Ordering a cappuccino after 11:00 a.m! But you know, it’s worth all the pain and suffering because, in the end, I get to drink coffee as smooth and delicious as any in the world.
Italians love their coffee and so do I!