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An ode to espresso

Espresso is darker than you might think underneath that caramel cloud, bold, bitter-rich, and supremely confident. If you add as much sugar as I do, it goes down like a burnt-umber glaze, and you could feel its intensity on your tongue for days if you were willing to forego toothpaste. Sipping it roasts your tongue and sends after-shocks down your throat, a bolt of liquid electricity… and then your mind begins to unfurl.

I learned this over Sunday dinners with friends our first year here in Italy. After the vermouth-soaked olives and the melting mountains of pasta and the veal and the salad and the pears and the tiramisu, after the children bounded away from the table and the chatter slowed to a contented lull, after the dishes were cleared and there was nothing left to do but relax, the tiny porcelain cups would come out. The espresso machine would croon its guttural love notes, the sugar bowl would give up its bouquet of silver teaspoons, and we would sip the last few steps to total tranquility.

Five years later, I can’t tell you whether or not I like the taste of espresso… but it’s not the taste that hangs my afternoons on this small pleasure. It’s the liturgy of contentment. It’s the infusion of courage and caffeine, the slow rhythm reset, and finally, the clarity. 


How do you take your coffee? And what significance does it hold for you?

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  1. ahhh, an ode to espresso. I love espresso, and like you, it’s not necessarily the taste I love. It’s the memories of Italy. I don’t drink it often, because it’s just not the same here in the States. Enjoy!

  2. (oh, no) Ahem…I don’t drink coffee. Can we still be friends? I go out to “coffee” with friends, but I always get hot chocolate. Dr. Pepper is my drug of choice.

    Loved this love letter to espresso though. xoxo

  3. Do dopios from Tullys count. Not really my preference, but since there is Tullys right in my building that tends to be my default. I miss the days of being married to a barista with virtually unlimited access to micro-roasted coffees from all over the world. Maybe after we get the kids in school I can talk her into coming out of retirement.

  4. black, once in a blue moon…..
    most of the time, with whole milk in it. 🙂 no sugar.

  5. I was an avowed “tea only” drinker until I hit my sophomore year of college and then somehow — maybe the scent of freshly ground beans lingering in the coffee shop where I liked to alternately study, meet with friends and play endless games of Speed Scrabble — I switched over to coffee without so much as a “fare thee well” to tea (although a good cuppa Darjeeling or Earl Gray is still fairly irresistible). Now, I associate coffee with people I love, sunny windows, supporting small business owners and fair trade farmers, books, rainy days, strangers, my old job, a bike accident, communion, ceramics, Turkish cups, floor rugs, countries outside of the US, airports and so much more.

  6. Kelly – If we ever move away from Italy, I’m sure that espresso will go from being a daily routine to a flashback-flood in no time. It’s such a strong and distinctive taste — how could it not conjure up memories? (Good ones, I hope!)

    Megsie – Of course, I’m completely horrified to find out you don’t drink coffee, but you’ve redeemed yourself with the Dr. Pepper habit. Did you know I was born in Dr. Pepper’s hometown? It kills not to be able to get it here, but I always have it to look forward to when we travel!

    Tom – Could you talk her into coming out of retirement AND taking another trip our way? I’d let Lindsey concoct a coffee for me any day.

    Beka – I haven’t been able to go no sugar yet… or even low sugar, if you want to know the truth. It’s my incurable sweet tooth making itself known, I guess. I have nothing but respect for coffee purists like yourself!

    Kate – I adore your list! I love it when small pleasures become associated with other small pleasures in that way–it’s pure happiness. Do you mind me asking where you’re from? I don’t know too many Americans with an attachment to Earl Gray. 🙂

  7. Lindsey is still in awe of Dan’s moka pot skills, so I think she is going to bring me back over for lessons as soon as we’re ready to try international travel with kids outnumbering adults.

  8. mmm. i like strong and smooth coffee, quite dark, but with a hint of light and sweet.
    by the way, you wrote this like it was poetry.

  9. Tom – Am I interpreting that right? If so, congratulations!

    Rain – “A hint of light and sweet” — you write poetry too, dear one.

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