Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Il Cappuccino di Sorpresa (The Cappuccino of Surprise)

When I look for good cappuccino, I often feel like I should camoflage myself in Italianess, like I am battling baristas for the very best cappuccino in the world. It is as if I should be ducking behind the bar and critiquing how they treat the machines—how they clean the steamer at night. For me, it has become my own personal war with the Italian coffee shops to find the very best cappuccino in every nook of every city. Often times, I can tell by the outside lights, the d├ęcor of the bar itself, and the dress of the barista/o what I will be in for.

See the following:

Roberto: Family run business where the cappuccino is fresh and made with love.

Sant’Estauchio: No bigger than a TCBY in the states and the casualness of the baristo let you know that it could quite possibly be the best cappuccino in the world (and thus far—it is).

Tabacchi store on random corner of a small street in Florence: You know that this is the cappuccino you want to drink when nothing else is open but you need a go.

Gilli: The baristi and bariste are dressed up in their Sunday attire and make you feel like you are attending a business meeting each time you walk in. Classy, but you know the taste won’t match the look. Still, you enjoy the classy feeling.

So when I walked into what first appeared to be a classy caffe in Siena, Italy on a Monday afternoon, I half expected the cappuccino to be sub par (besides it was SIENA—we weren’t in Rome anymore (sigh)). Then when I saw the baristo who appeared uninterested in my excitement over a simple cappuccino. And so I thought: Oh boy this could be quite terrible. But I was wrong...this cappuccino turned out to be so much more. This was the cappuccino that planned a sneak attack on me—that took out my tastebuds first and melted my heart. This was the cappuccino that I never expected.

This was much more than a Tabacchi style-stay-awake-nothing else is open- cappuccino. This was a taste-good-feel good-keep you going-bubble bath-round the bases-grand slamd kind of Joe. This was my favorite cappuccino since the first time I had ever tasted Sant’Eustachio in Rome…since I first discovered that incredible bubble bath of foam—since I deemed Sant’Eustachio quite possibly the best in the world.

I can’t lie—when first handed to me, the cappuccino truly deceived my eyes. The foam seemed thin and I prepared myself for what I had already declared in my mind a disaster. Again—it was Siena, I didn’t have high expectations for the cappuccino—the sights yes—but the cappuccino…Gosh, I had no idea. As I slowly dipped my spoon into the foam, I realized that the foam was much deeper than I had predicted—and it was as if I had just stepped form the shallow end of the ocean into a deep drop off—like I could drown within this coffee cup—within this foam—like I had just found a fresh hot tub of foam to submerge within…and then I dove in slowly—sipping the foam, casually, realizing not only was the foam deceivingly deep but it was also stunningly tasty to the tongue.

Leaving me weak in my knees, it was the best sneak attack of the century.

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