Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Perché Amo il Cappuccino? (Why do I love Cappuccino)

"Everyone needs a tagline. And I guess yours is cappuccino?"

That's what my boss said to me as I pulled out my cappuccino shirt and laughed about my recent purchase.

"You really do love it, don't you?" She added.

Still laughing I told her that I had also created business cards with a cappuccino image on them.

"It really is your tagline."

And then another co-worker chimed in.

"Why do you love it so much?"

That answer is easy. But it requires a story:

It starts with falling in love with coffee. You see, I can tell you the exact day that I began loving coffee. I was sitting in the kitchen with my mother, and she was filtering coffee into a mug that had the Starry Night design on it. I hadn't even tasted the coffee, but just the smell had gotten me. It was a scent like none other. The only competition, it had, in fact, and has ever had has been fresh chocolate chip cookies-which come in second place every time. You see, growing up, each time I noticed the steaming aroma moving through the house, I'd walk upstairs and sit with my mother. "One day this mug will be yours," she would tell me, as she sipped from the Starry Night mug.

The mug now resides on a shelf in our guest room. When I finally have my own place--I'll inherit it. I dream of my own starry night when I can drink a cappuccino from that mug myself. For now, I just have inherited a love of coffee that I am not sure I can ever lose.

In fact--in high school, I wrote a five minute audition speech comparing high school to a cup of coffee that won me the honor of being one of two class speakers on graduation day. Nearly four years later, I had debated re-writing the coffee metaphor to match college. But I think someone told me that the only speech I should be making about coffee again is at a support group for coffee lovers... "Hi, my name is Libby, and I am a coffee addict."

But it wasn't till my junior year of college that I discovered what a cappuccino was. I traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and into Italy. As I looked at a menu of coffee drinks, I felt like Columbus must have felt when he discovered a new world: Lost and heavenly all at once. There was espresso, and caffe Americano, and caffe lungo, and caffe late, and then--there it was--cappuccino. The only problem was I didn't know what any of these were. I hadn't taken an Italian class yet, and I had become accustomed to ordering a large-hot-caramel flavored coffee at the Dunkin Donuts located on the top of my campus. Everything was foreign to me--except the smell of the coffee shop. I nearly ordered a caffe Americano, but after watching my friends bitter expression, following a sip of her first cup of Joe in Europe, I went for the more fun sounding drink--the cappuccino.

It was then that I never looked back. It was then that I discovered bubbles, and foam, and fun latte art, and the pet peeves of Italians to drink a cappuccino after 10 am. It was then that I learned I didn't mind a coffee drink being so small in comparison to the ones I had always drank in America, because I could just buy more--taste more--treat myself more.

It took me two years to go back to Italy to have a cappuccino, after returning to America. Upon returning to Italy in October of 2010, I began my blog, drank up to 7 cappuccino in one day, attempted to make my own cappuccino (failing miserably), and coffee crawled through northern Italy.

And while my love for cappuccino started accidentally, my continued love has been purposeful.

Because my love for cappuccino is in lots of things. It is in the smooth sound of the steamer as my barista or baristo forms the foam. It's in the latte art I receive on each different occasion. It's in the familiar smell of the aroma that fills a room. It's in the smile my coffee shop friends have when they see my look of ecstasy upon receiving my beautiful mug of deliciousness. It's in the hand(le) to hold on each mug. It's in every cappuccino--even if some can't compete with others. It's in every part of cappuccino. And I don't think it's going anywhere--anytime soon.

And that's why I love cappuccino so much.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Prendo un cappuccino con una faccia di un Panda? "No" (Can I have a cappuccino with a Panda face? "No")

It is not every day that I meet a furry friend on my travels through coffee shops. Normally, I find a heart shape design or a leaf, or a flower in the foam of my cappuccino-- a symbol of my barista's or baristo's skill, passion for his or her art, and hope to make my day that much better. But last week, after returning to Via Quadronno for one of their delicious cappuccini, my friend and I were handed what seemed to be the most delicate design I had even seen.

There he was--just staring at us with beautiful details. The cappuccino was actually for my friend Ashley, and I could see the sadness in her eyes as she knew the design would soon be gone when she went to drink the coffee. The panda's eyes almost formed a tranquil look as well--as if he knew his time was short.

For the rest of the day I continued to talk about my run-in with a panda bear at the cappuccino shop. My co-workers were nearly as amazed as we were. So I made it my mission to visit another well-known cappuccino place in Lower Manhattan.

When I arrived, I ordered my cappuccino, hoping that without question I'd receive at least some design. Instead--I received this--rather quickly and sloppily (even though I was the only one in line):

I almost approached the barista to ask what THAT mess was. Is that a half-assed heart, I thought to myself. Was there a failed attempt? But I kept my mouth shut...sipped on what was actually a tasty cappuccino, and thought of kinder ways to approach the situation.

I returned to the counter, with the panda photo ready on m iPhone.

"Excuse me"
"Do you or any of the baristas here ever create art like this?" I nearly shoved my phone in her face.
"Ha," she laughed... "We don't have time for that--we are much too busy, we'd never get through a line. Plus we don't have the tools to do that."

Now--I may have been perfectly okay with this answer had she not continued, but it was when she continued that I had to refrain from pulling out my business card and telling her "I am no amateur in cappuccino tasting."

"Besides--after you do all that work, the cappuccino doesn't taste good."

I cringed.

'WHAT,' I exclaimed, in my head.

Ashley had declared her panda cappuccino delicious (Ashley was a fellow friend in Italy--so her opinion is as trust worthy as mine); and all my heart, leaf, and face cappuccini before that had been just the same--wonderful. And here, this barista was telling me that with more work, the cappuccino wouldn't taste as good.

But instead of saying this out loud, I nodded, walked out the door, and vowed never to return to La Colombe--no matter how good their cappuccino may have tasted--again.

Edited: November 12, 2011 -- I returned to the shop and had a cappuccino. I couldn't resist how good it tasted---Sigh. : )