Espresso Time

The Daily Grind

2011/07/20 - Written by Shauna Hardy
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Some adore it for its energy-boost, others for its taste. There are those who reach for it to get an eye-opening jump on their mornings, while others prefer to linger over it while winding down from their day.

There are purists who will only drink it black, while others prefer to top it with sugar and milk. Chilled or piping hot, poured from a percolator or gulped from a travel mug, most people will agree that nothing beats a good cup of coffee.

While Italians didn’t play a part in the cultivation of coffee, they have heavily influenced how it is perceived and imbibed.  It is supposed that coffee first arrived in Venice thanks to the trade ships that frequented its ports.  While many immediately fell upon the spell of the beverage, a cloud of worry hung heavily over the divine drink when it finally reached Rome.  Many viewed it as “The Devil’s Drink”, thanks to the fact that it had been introduced by Islamic society, and worried that by enjoying the beverage they would risk being damned to hell.

The uproar became so intense that members of the Vatican actually approached Pope Clement VIII and requested that he ban all Christians from partaking in the drink. Feeling curious, the Pope asked that a cup of coffee be sent to him to sample. His reaction was intense, but not the one that the coffee detractors had been hoping for.  Rather than prohibiting the drink, the Pope fell under its spell and immediately baptized the drink, so that all could enjoy its heady flavour.

Italians were now hooked on coffee and soon needed a place to enjoy their drink.  The first Italian coffee house, Caffé Florian, opened its doors in the late 1600’s.  These coffee houses lent an air of romance to the drink.  People would gather not only to enjoy the drink, but to soak in the atmosphere and the conversation that went with it.  Soon, the coffee craze had spread across Europe and was beginning to make in-roads in America thanks to a French soldier who (according to legend) could not be separated from his beloved drink.  He snuck a plant aboard his ship bound for America and cared for the plant throughout the long journey. The plant was transplanted to the island of Martinique where over 19 million trees appeared in the following 50 years. These plants eventually made their way to South and Central America where they continue to thrive today.

Today, speak to any Italian about their coffee and you will find that there are certain regulations that should be followed.  An espresso is the standard drink of choice. While it is often served in the mornings in the form of cappuccinos and café lattes, these milk laden variations are never enjoyed past mid-morning.  According to Italian coffee philosophy, they are too heavy and calorie-laden to be enjoyed after a lunch or dinner meal – they are only to be drunk as a perfect start to the morning. 

“While most North Americans insist upon a steaming hot cup of coffee, most Italians prefer a luke-warm hit of caffeine that can be enjoyed quickly and efficiently. Lingering over a cup is unheard of as actually sitting at a table in an Italian coffee bar will double, triple or even quadruple the price of an espresso.”

While North American coffee-drinking habits seem to be worlds away from their Italian counterparts, the European coffee culture heavily influenced one of today’s biggest coffee phenomenons. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz fell under the charm of espresso-based drinks while on a business trip to Italy. He was so enamoured with the coffee culture that he decided to incorporate the drinks into the Starbucks menu.  The recipes caught on like wild-fire and suddenly, those who had only known freeze-dried and instant coffee were reaching for espressos and lattes.  The world of coffee had suddenly taken on a whole new dimension.

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