Friday, September 08, 2006
You say expresso, I say espresso
As my good friend Margaret helpfully pointed out, the debate continues.
Some caffeine to get you ready for the weekend, and a surprise treat at the end.
So, let's begin with one of the first lessons in becoming a real transplanted Roman. Just last week I made a purchase that is essential to all your run-of-the-mill Italian households: the moka. And not just any moka, no siree, we are talking authentic here, so, behold: the Bialetti.
I am now having a flashback of my fianceè Alessandro on our first visit to Phoenix, where I used to live. After bravely trying to survive without his beloved cappuccino or espresso for a total of oh, about 3 days, he surrendered and said that we simply had to find a moka in Phoenix. "You have everything in the United States, so we will find it." After scouring every kitchen store from Chandler to Scottsdale, finally the angels started to sing at Sur La Table, where we spent a pretty penny for the "real thing" and proceeded to make our Italian espresso in the Arizona desert.
So, without further ado, let me initiate you into the sacred world of the vero espresso Italiano.
I’ve created a little photo collage to lead us along. Feel free to refer back as needed.
Now, don't be fooled into thinking that your average-Giovanni Italian has a Starbucks-like set-up at home for his coffee. Oh no, the humble yet elegant Bialetti or some generic knock-off does the job just fine, thank you.
Your choice of coffee is of course all-important. Italians can be coffee snobs. Ask a Roman and you'll probably be told that the best coffee in Rome can be had at Caffè Sant Eustachio, or alternatively at Tazza d’Oro. Today we’ll use a (gasp) supermarket brand from Segafreddo. Storage in hermetic container is a good idea.
Coffee connoisseurs will grind the beans but we are pressed for time, so, note the grind: the moka grind is something between an espresso grind and a drip grind: not too fine, not too coarse. In Italy most pre-ground coffees are produced specially for the moka.
The moka is a simple feat of engineering: just three main parts. There is a tank for water on the bottom, a filter for the coffee in the middle, and a tank for the coffee on the top. Semplice! (Sem-plee-chay)
Now, we can get on with making our espresso. First, fill the small tank with water up to just below the valve. Then, place the filter in and fill it with coffee. Don’t press the coffee down. Then you can screw on the tank, and place it on the burner. A low flame or low heat is best.
Soon your coffee will start bubbling out and you’ll know it’s ready when you start to hear sputtering noises. It usually takes about 5 minutes.
The whole kitchen fills with the coffee aroma: even my cat Betsy wanted some!
Here you have it then: Serve in an espresso cup, about half-full. If you want, you can add milk and then it becomes “espresso macchiato” or “stained espresso."
Wait! Before you go out and buy your very own Bialetti, turn on your computer speakers and check out this great little animated short comparing Italy to the rest of the European Union. Besides the scene of Italians ordering their coffee in a million different ways, you’ll get a preview of some other aspects of Italian life—that we’ll certainly talk about in posts to come!