Sorry, Italy, I disagree about coffee

In Italy, they are very particular about their coffee. It stands to reason, since they’re famous for coffee. Half our coffee words are direct loan-words from Italian. Latte, cappuccino, espresso, doppio espresso, to name a few.

Many successful coffee shop chains have given themselves Italian names and the main coffee machines used in those coffee shops come from Italy. The Gaggia machine is made in Milan, and that is the industry standard for professional coffee-making equipment.

So it’s generally acknowledged that Italy knows a thing or two about coffee. But I’m not so sure. When I went to Verona more than a few years ago, I wandered across a huge piazza to a cafe with dozens of seats outside. Wanting to experience some local culture, I sat down and a waiter came out.

– What would you like to drink? he asked.

– A cappuccino, please, I replied.

– No. We do not serve those after 11am.

– Could I have a latte instead? I wondered.

– We do not serve those, now, either.

– Americano? I (out of desperation) asked. I was starting to feel as if I’d landed in Monty Python’s Cheese Shop sketch.

– We don’t make those, he replied.

I couldn’t think of any other types of coffee right then. It seemed so weird that an Italian cafe wouldn’t sell coffee. I could see people drinking around me. I blinked once. Twice. Three times. My brain had to reboot. Then it gave up. So did I. I thanked him, left the table, and headed back across the square to the McDonald’s where they were not so strange about their coffee.

I only found out later that the waiter was being a coffee snob. The thing is, in Italy, you are not supposed to drink cappuccino or latte except with your breakfast. The rest of the time, you must only drink espresso.

I find this bizarre. Milky coffees are extremely high in calories and, due to a hormonal issue, I struggle to keep weight on. On top of that, I have abominable stomach acid and, because I overcaffeinated when I worked eighteen-hour days as an inner-city high school teacher, I now get jittery if I have more than 2 real coffees within an eight-hour stretch. I used to be well-known for being able to drink coffee at 2am and fall asleep at 2:20am, but these days, coffee really affects me if I have too much.

I don’t think I’m the only one. I know loads of people who have cut out caffeine in an attempt to cull mood swings, anxiety, or jitters.

Largely, I drink decaf. But a decaf espresso is the most pointless drink known to humanity. The 50ml shot of decaf neither hydrates you nor wakes you up. Actually, they’ve invented non-alcoholic shots of “spirits”, these days, so that’s up there as pointless, too. Not drunk. Still thirsty. Pointless.

A long drink with a ton of extra calories and some protein, like a soy latte or cappuccino, has a purpose. It gives me energy, from the calories, and stabilizes my weight, so I don’t waste away from breastfeeding. While I was pregnant with Jellyfish, I drank two or three decaf iced lattes every day to keep my calories up, to make up for the hell of hyperemesis (extreme pregnancy sickness) which had made me lose 5kg (10lb) of weight in the first trimester.

When you think about it, this whole obsession with Italian coffee makes no sense. None. Coffee came to Europe from South America. There are not many Italians in South America. People were drinking it over there for a very long time. And North America has some of the best-known coffee outlets, too. Starbucks. Seattle’s Best Coffee (which, BTW, was my favorite haunt in Osaka). Tim Horton’s (which is in my top ten eateries in Belfast). Need I continue? Italian coffee is like fancy shoes. Great to make you feel special, but day-to-day I’d reach for my Skechers or sandals. America knows coffee better than anyone, and I think they’re the ones getting it right.

So I’m sorry, Italy. You’re wrong about coffee. It doesn’t need to be strong. And it’s okay to put milk in it after 11am. It won’t catch fire.