web analytics

Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Coffee Break, Anyone?

Everyone complains about the high price of gas. Actually, now it’s dropped, but a year ago it was still 50 cents lower. I wonder how much a gallon of coffee would cost. If the price is hovering around $3 for a small cup, how many of these tiny swigs would equal a gallon? Not that math has ever been my strongest subject, but it would probably be around 16 cups. That would equal $48 per gallon of Columbian liquid gold.

In Russia, it’s even more. There, a daily fix will set you back about $10 a cup at the best shops, or 2400 rubles, give or take some. I don’t know, we passed so many unmarked bills to so many unknown “contacts” over there, thousands or millions of rubles for a quick coffee fix does not sound unrealistic. The perfect wake-up call for your $800 a night hotel room in Moscow.

Starbucks is making coffee more affordable this holiday season by offering five $20 giftcards for the price of four through Costco. I would suggest you not try to obtain any as they will probably be scarfed up by my own family members. The cards enter the market on November 4th, no doubt an auspicious day for pollsters and politicos needing a boost.

Coffee has been with our family since time immemorial. I never drank coffee before I met my husband. I remember us walking across the desert late one afternoon where a bedouin performed the coffee ritual for us in his tent. Traveling through Europe and the Middle East, my one purchase upon return home was a small flip-over espresso coffee maker. This smallest of the small Italian models was featured in European homes everywhere, its metal filter suspended between the two sides which twisted one into the other. I felt very chic, despite the fact that my fingers were often burned and disaster loomed when the bubbling liquid started spewing everywhere. If I knew what I was doing, it would have helped.

Within years, this was outpaced by the ubiquitous Mr. Coffee, the drip machine revolutionizing American life. We enjoyed the brew, grinding our own beans, mixing and matching for an authentic blend. The more coffee, and the less water, the stronger the strain. We rarely followed the suggested water marks on the carafe.

“Mmmm, this is great,” I remarked to Benedetto one day. The cup of java held a certain allure, a definite panache it had not previously possessed.

“The secret ingredients,” he nodded, pouring another cup for himself in our small, newlywed kitchen.

Turns out he had met an Italian Embassy worker buying beans. Stalking the man who was cupping handfuls and sticking his big nose right into the oily beans, he finally got up the nerve to speak with the uomo.

“Eh, scusa`–,” he began, one well-dressed conossieur to another. If you didn’t have the top smooth leather shoes and understated pocket silk, don’t even bother trying to get into this club.

Benedetto asked the right questions and came away with the secret blend of three different roasts—1/3 of French, Espresso, and Columbian, mixed together, resulting in the most awesome cup of coffee. Maybe it was my imagination, but I insist I saw early-morning sniffers standing outside our old house windows, sashes thrown open wide onto the downtown, Colonial brick sidewalks beyond. Only a few were the coffee shops in those days knowing how to roast beans or steam milk.

The key for us was grinding our own beans. You could have the magic blend for whatever suited your palate, but if the coffee powder came from beans ground days, weeks, or months before, forget it. Another apparatus, the coffee grinder, came onto our overflowing kitchen counter. We stored the beans in the darkness of a kitchen cabinet, at room temperature, ensuring their freshness. Putting them in the fridge was the American travesty kiss of death to any self-respecting bean that would be cooled and heated each time it left its igloo-like existence.

We progressed to capuccino, the king of morning coffee. Of course, no self-respecting European would drink a capuc much beyond noon, while coffee houses here in the US processed orders from dawn to dusk and beyond. The ability to create our own cup of frothy milk mixed with dark espresso was our most amazing feat. We did it without the benefit of a pressurized machine, gaining a tip from conoscenti friends in innovative Italia. When you offer to help carry breakfast dishes out of, and into a kitchen, you will be paid your reward in information worth its weight in coffee beans….

There, one of our hosts had poured milk into a small cooking pot. Heating slowly over the flame, she used a wire whisk on whole milk, beating air into the liquid. Sure enough, it began to froth and she topped each cup of coffee with the delicious foam, the perfect counterpoint to our rough Tuscan bread slices and jam.

Eventually, the in-laws bought us an espresso capuccino machine a few years down the line. They were much more progressive than my parents when it came to gadgets. Yet, it was almost a decrescendo. The heat and the pressure scared me. I was no barrista. I wanted a kinder, gentler cup of coffee, that had no potential to blow up the kitchen.

Fast-forward to now, and I’ve stopped with the caffeine, but not with the cafes. It all happened this way: A mammogram discovered a couple of small lumps in my breast. The ultrasound confirmed it. My life spun wildly and stood still simultaneously. Breast cancer? I was referred to a breast surgeon.

The Italian-American surgeon asked one question: “How much coffee do you drink?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said, totally unprepared for such a question when my mind was on other matters. “Let’s just say, ‘Lots’.”

“No, really, how much? Two, three cups a day?” he pressed.

“That would be before breakfast…” I hedged. “We’re talking big mugs, morning, noon, and night.”

“You must stop,” he told me. “Caffeine causes breast lumps. This could be the cause of your tumors.”

“Caffeine causes cancer?!” my mouth dropped as I sat on his white-papered examining table.

“No, it causes lumps, which we then have to remove to see if they are cancerous, and due to other conditions. I would recommend you stop the caffeine, and you will need to have surgery right away,” he declared.

“He’s Italian, he would know,” the nurse added.

From that day forward, I ceased the caffeine. Cold turkey. I switched to a decaf once or twice a day, water-processed. Never had a headache. The lumps were surreptitiously removed and found to be benign, thank God. My husband switched to tea, except for when he goes out for coffee, which apparently happens more frequently than I thought.

Benedetto equates coffee with being out and about. There are enough drip marks in our car cup holder to indicate where he’s been and what he’s done. Even when he asks if he could brew me some decaf coffee at home, it’s inevitably right before we’re leaving the house, so I’ll have little time to drink it. To him, car = coffee. In any foreign pedestrian country, café = coffee. So he doesn’t even need the car as an excuse, which is good because with the price of each per gallon, it could spell our economic demise to indulge in both simultaneously.

My husband is the original Mr. Coffee. He knows what kind of coffee to order, with his long time spent in scientific research in cafes. By this we’re not referring to coffees combined with ice cream flavors—hazelnut, almond, raspberry—at which the purists would turn up their noses. Benedetto was willing to do anything for the pursuit of science. His advanced level course showed him not only what to order, but when to order it. The “stretto”, “lungo”, and “macchiato” all had their time and place. He never went as far as the “coretto” with its alcoholic boost, which seemed more like a drink for an old man on a cold day.

I tried to join him in giving my body to science, but they sniffed me out as an infiltrator, a Benedict Arnold of the bean trade. It was when I paired a normal coffee term, such as “capuccino”, with what they considered to be an abnormal term, such as “decaffeinato”. All cups slammed down on the zinc counter top, and the coffee machines came to a grinding halt. No longer could we hear the cadence of bang-bang, tap-tap, as the barrista emptied the old coffee grounds and tamped the freshly-ground coffee into the filter. Everyone stopped and stared. Have you ever noticed how classicists don’t appreciate innovation?

But the wheels of progress churn on. The children are now being groomed with steamers, non-coffee drinks full of delightful flavors, whether pumpkin, or spice, or chocolate, depending on the time of year. Naturally, with Benedetto’s driving, there are spill marks everywhere on the kids’ clothes and in the car. I knew there was a reason why car manufacturers offered leather seats. Anyway, the drinks would not damage their health: sugar-free, fat free, and have a nice day.

On our family’s consumption alone, Juan Valdez should be enjoying his retirement hacienda, multiplied burros bringing the big bucks up the mountain to him. If the economic crisis continues and it eventually means choosing between coffee or gasoline, we could all probably use more exercise.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.