An ode to coffee – Italy

An ode to coffee – Italy

Last week, I wrote about Vietnamese coffee and while I’m a not a huge fan of it I still found some drinks that are worth dying for. This week, however I’m writing about my true love, Italian coffee.

So here’s a list of my favourites. Most of them are quite popular all over the world but no one can make and drink them like the Italians do.

  1. Moka

Every Italian household has at least one of these stove-top coffee makers. The coffee it makes is strong and similar to espresso but it doesn’t have that thin foam on top that you get when using an espresso machine. It’s small and portable and the coffee it makes is an ideal base for a latte, cappuccino or basically anything. If you want to enjoy your coffee in Italian style make sure that you stuff the pot with grind coffee to the top.

  1. Espresso

It’s much stronger than other brews thanks to the method how it’s made. It also contains more caffeine but as it comes in a tiny cup it doesn’t really matter. It gives the base of cappuccino and caffé latte but a lot of people find it too strong and bitter in itself. I quite like it but I think it’s best with a tiny bit of milk.

  1. Espresso macchiato

Espresso with a small amount of foamed milk. It’s heaven itself. The milk takes away the bitterness a bit but you can still taste the aroma of the coffee. Perfection! (I’m not biased at all…)

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Coffee and pastry
  1. Cappuccino

Of course, everyone knows it but do we know how it’s made or what is the difference between cappuccino and caffé latte? Add in a cup 1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, 1/3 foam and there you have a cappuccino. Italians mainly have it for breakfast with sweet pastry but I saw an old lady once ordering it after lunch so… I don’t care anymore. If I want a cappuccino I’ll have one.

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  1. Caffé Latte

Once an Italian asked my why the English call it latte. She was confused for a reason. Latte means milk in Italian so if you happen to order it don’t be surprised if you get a glass of milk. It’s similar to cappuccino but the foam is thinner. It’s made with 1/3 espresso and 2/3 milk including the thin foam.

You can also get coffee with different liquors and cocoa or chocolate syrup. These are especially popular among tourists so don’t be surprised if the barrista looks at you like you were an alien when you order an espresso. I have a feeling that most Italians secretly think that all tourists are barbarians when it comes to coffee drinking 😛

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Coffee o’clock in Italy

Coffee o’clock in Italy

Saturday 10:30 AM, Italy.
I’ve been running errands all morning so it’s time for a well deserved coffee and breakfast. “Where should I go?” I don’t feel like having anything sweet for breakfast and I want good coffee. (OK, you cannot really get bad coffee in Italy but still there are small differences.) “Coffee o’clock has a nice variety of sweet and savoury pastries and sandwiches and the coffee is good. I know I should support local businesses but… It’s been a tiring week…”

Finally, I’m in Coffee O’clock. The crowd is insane. Italians, like coffee zombies are swirling around and I can make no sense of what’s happening whatsoever. That’s kind of normal here so I make my way to the counter and order a sandwich and a cappuccino. People are leaving and it’s a bit more peaceful now. While I’m waiting for my coffee another wave of customers arrive. Everyone gets their coffee before me so I’m becoming a bit impatient. I’m trying to find out what happened to my coffee but it’s impossible to get their attention. Finally, the guy I ordered my cappuccino from tells me that it’s on the way but next time I should pay before I order when it’s busy.

I think I’ll never get the Italian system. Whenever I try to pay in advance (or right after I got my coffee) they stare at me like I was an alien. I guess I am… Same with queuing. There are no lines, people scatter around an area and somehow they know who’s in the “queue” and who comes after who.

Anyway, got my coffee and sandwich. Found a spot, sat down and consumed my breakfast. Time to pay. And the girl knows what I had, although she served at least 30 people after me. Magic? Or some kind of Italian super power?

Christmas and antique market in Arezzo

Christmas and antique market in Arezzo

Christmas fever has definitely started in Italy. Last week, the Tyrolese Christmas market was opened at Piazza Grande, just a few meters from where I live so now I’m listening to carols all day long. The opening ceremony involved lighting  “a thousand” lanterns, which were definitely less than a thousand (not even a hundred if you ask me) but it still looked cool. I’m definitely getting excited as it is going to be the first Christmas with my family in two years. I’ve already started shopping and made some D.I.Y. decorations.

Today was especially busy with the usual monthly antique market but it was worth putting up with the crowd. I love flea markets in general but Italian ones are especially good. With real antique and designer furniture which are not always that expensive and there are still cheap enough things to buy even for me. The first time I went I bought a picture frame for 5 Euros which was a bargain. It’s quite big and in a very good condition and if you take that a similar frame would cost the same or more in IKEA… You can also buy second-hand books, clothes and kitchenware or just walk around and soak in the atmosphere…

Italy through an expat’s eyes

Italy through an expat’s eyes

Every country has its own unique culture. Although, I’m from Europe and we Europeans have a lot in common there are also a lot of differences. Some of them can be a bit annoying or difficult to understand but mostly they are interesting and keep my curiosity alive. I’ve been in Italy for two months so I’m definitely not an expert yet but I have already noticed some differences between Italians and other nations. So I gathered them and here they are:

  1. “Coffee to go”

While in most countries you see people running around with their paper coffee cups here in Italy you’ll rarely see anyone doing it. It’s one thing I love about Italy. People here appreciate their free time and stop to have a break. Even if it’s only for five minutes Italians will stop and enjoy their coffee, often standing at the bar, chatting with the barista. Oh, and I must mention the quality of the coffee. It’s sooo goood and strong! Just the way I like it. No offence but who invented Americano?!? And why? When you have espresso! I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm for strong coffee but it does effect the culture. Or maybe the culture effected the coffee… Anyway, I much prefer these short breaks than running around with a cup.

The other interesting thing is how you don’t pay util you finished your coffee and want to leave. Here’s how it works in an Italian cafe: You go up to the bar, order your coffee, wait for it (maybe chat with the barista if he/she is not too busy), get your coffee, drink it then pay before you leave. It’s somewhat annoying as you have to queue twice and the whole coffee buying process takes longer but it shows me that I need to slow down more.

  1. On the street

I wonder how Italians don’t bump into each other every second. When I walk down a street and there’s a group coming towards me they never move out of the way to let me pass. Even if I have nowhere to go they’ll come extremely close when I have to stop and then they realise that I can’t melt into the wall or jump over them and then (but only then) one of them will move out of my way and let me pass. It’s something that annoys me a lot but here it seems natural.

While the above behaviour is somewhat irritating it also helps me slow down. I’m a fast walker which is not bad when I’m running errands or going to work but I noticed that I tend to walk fast even when I have enough time to slow down.

  1. Food

I think we can agree that Italian cuisine is amazing. Italians surely agree because it’s not easy to find anything else here. OK, there are all kinds of restaurants but I don’t think I’ve been anywhere else where the local food was so popular. What I absolutely love about Italy is that you can easily buy fresh, local ingredients. Whenever I go to the supermarket I always find something new and interesting. My next project is to learn how to cook with flowers as they seem to be very popular here.

  1. Fashion

Italians love fashion. We all know that. And we envy them for looking stylish all the time. But would we dress like an Italian? I’m not so sure. What is fashionable here might look a bit extreme in other countries. I couldn’t imagine men showing off with their chest hair the way Italians do. It’s definitely something that makes me smile but then again it’s quite normal here.

  1. People

I just love how Italians speak. I don’t know why but the mixture of the language and hand gestures make me smile all the time. It’s just very expressive. The other day, I overheard a man (very fashionable, with blond, wavy hair, bright blue designer sunglasses and deeply cut T-shirt for his prominent chest hair) talking to his mamma, who chose the wrong cheese and now the guy had to go back to change it. It was nothing special but the whole scene just made me smile.

The other thing I noticed is how Italians get very loud when in groups. And they tend to do everything in groups or pairs. There’s a real sense of community here. I can see old people sitting in cafes and parks chatting away. In our fast paced world we could really work on our relationships so it’s good to see that there are countries where people find the time to talk to each other, to be together.

I know that two months is not enough to get to know a culture but it’s enough to spot some of the differences. Like elsewhere, there are good things and bad, and things that make me think and question myself. That’s what I like about travelling. The constant learning and developing.

San Gimignano – The Town of Fine Towers

San Gimignano – The Town of Fine Towers

Last week I visited San Gimignano, this small, medieval town in Tuscany that is famous for its fine towers. Although, the town is quite small there is plenty to see. Churches, famous frescos, tower-houses, shops and the view on the surrounding landscape is well worth a visit.

As usual, I started by walking around and soaking in the medieval atmosphere. I went in to a few shops, tried some local delicacies and marvelled at the tall towers that made the city so famous.

In the middle ages there was a competition between rich families who tried to build the tallest tower to show off with their fortune. San Gimignano was a prosperous town until it was struck by the Black Death in 1348 when all development stopped. The town remained in its medieval state until the 19th century when the middle ages come into fashion and San Gimignano was rediscovered as a tourist destination.

During my visit to the Campatelli Tower-House I found out that some of the medieval structures in the city were “fake”. Some buildings were redesigned to fit in better with the medieval style and attract more tourists. Although, it was not what I expected it made San Gimignano even more interesting.

After learning about the town’s history it was time to get some refreshment so I lined up in front of Gelateria Dondoli, a world champion ice-cream shop. The queue was long and it was crazy inside. I couldn’t see all the flavours properly because of the crowd so I ended up choosing very quickly without knowing what I missed. I didn’t regret my decision, though. The olive, raspberry-rosemary and chestnut-rosemary combo was unique and really good.

By the time I finished with my gelato the sun was setting and it was time to go home. From the camping’s restaurant I could catch a final glimpse of the town and its towers and the  beautiful Tuscan landscape before the sun went down and everything was covered in darkness.

A day in Florence

A day in Florence

Although, I had a headache and felt quite weak I decided to visit Florence and spend the day there. I didn’t have time to plan so instead of stressing about visiting the “must see” places I wandered around the city and tried to absorb its atmosphere and its beautiful architecture. If you want to experience the streets of Florence come along with me and take a walk in this beautiful city.

 

I’ve moved to Italy!

I’ve moved to Italy!

I moved to Italy. It was quite unexpected and I only had a week to book my flight and pack but here I am, drinking espresso in Arezzo.

I’ve been here for a week and it’s been tiring but thank to amazing Italian coffee I managed somehow. I arrived to Arezzo on Monday and moved in to my apartment on the same day. It’s spacious and beautiful with a mixture of antique and modern furniture, old wooden floor, marble kitchen counter and table, and a very precious orchid plant that we have to look after. My bedroom is quite big and I have my own bathroom so I don’t have to wait for my flatmate. What’s more, it takes only 10 minutes to walk to work. I couldn’t be happier.

Another big plus is food. I’m getting familiar with Italian supermarkets and restaurants and I haven’t been disappointed once. Everything is fresh. There are some things that are hard to find, though. I like stocking up on canned beans and chickpeas but it seems like Italians prefer them dried, which I guess is healthier but more complicated to cook. On the other hand they sell fresh herbs and spices and I can’t wait to learn to use them properly.

I absolutely love Italian coffee and in comparison to Vietnam you can get freshly baked goods with your espresso, which is a huge plus for me. After my porridge/oatmeal I usually have a coffee with some pastry as a second breakfast. And it’s not even that expensive. My other favourite is gelato. Coming from Hungary I’m used to good ice-cream but after having lived in countries that know nothing about ice-cream I can really appreciate Italian gelato. Luckily, my apartment is on top of a hill so I don’t have to worry about getting fat.

There’s an antique market in town this weekend so there’s plenty to see and do. The prices are not too bad either but I’m saving my money for later. There’s a market every month so I will have plenty of time to shop if I change my mind.

I’m starting my Italian lessons on Monday, which I hope will make my life easier. I can understand a lot but it’s really annoying that I can’t speak. I have a busy schedule but I hope I will have enough time for my hobbies. Teaching also starts on Monday so it’s going to be an exciting day tomorrow. Till then I’m going to relax a bit and enjoy my espresso macchiato 😉