Being Modern: Coffee
Sunday 14 August 2011
It's not unusual to come across someone who likes to complain, with some vigour, about our nation's growing obsession with coffee – desperate just to order a normal coffee from a surly teenager, not a tall soy decaf vanilla latte from an Australian World Barista Championship finalist.
Yet, as an Italian who grew up on weekly trips to the Costa Rica Coffee Co in Cardiff, where I would buy freshly roasted beans that would make the whole bus sniff the air in mystified olfactory wonder, coffee to me is neither of these things: rather, it is a world of Italian chic in an impossibly tiny cup. We are Marcello Mastroianni (him), we are Anita Ekberg (her) living la dolce vita when we make a cup of the good stuff – and to turn that into the everyday, mundane experience conjured up by a "flat white" is problematic.
Apply synesthesia to coffee and, for aging caffeine connoisseurs everywhere, it's the overexposed sunlight of Italian neorealism, the pastel shades of a Vespa, the cerulean blue sky over the Amalfi coast, the classical proportions of a Renaissance piazza, the svelte lines of a Prada suit. And the very thought of using one of those "pods" rather than a stove-top espresso pot is enough to make us fall off our Le Corbusier Vienna Café chairs.
But let's get a grip, shall we? Since Achille Gaggia applied for a patent for a steamless coffee machine in 1938, Italy has had a wide range of coffees, from the tiny ristretto to the giant Americano via the espresso, macchiato, latte macchiato and that good old tourist's favourite, the cappuccino – all of which have become commonplace here, too, thanks to the big chains. And even in Italy they're getting all fancy and fussy, swapping their six daily caffès for un piccolo decaffo scremato as they watch their caffeine intake, their waistlines and their wallets.
So just remember that next time you're in a vast queue behind someone asking for "a double espresso in a big cup, then the same amount of hot milk, with absolutely no froth in it or on top" – and don't be tempted to ask them: isn't that just a flat white?
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