Thursday, January 17, 2008

Coffee Encounters Captured

I'd be lying if I said I like coffee. I don't particularly like coffee. What I like is the experience of drinking coffee. The cafes themselves. Placing the order, especially in Spanish or Italian. Watching the deliberate, well-measured gestures of the barista. Waiting. The flourish of the presentation. The tiny little cup. The foam on top of the capuccino. The sugar as it sits atop the foam for a brief moment, and then the slow descent, the fall through the frothy platform into the strong, hot liquid energy below. The quiet time to think, pray, journal, prepare mentally for the day ahead. Time to sit. In the cafe. In the moment. To remind myself: I am in Spain. Madrid. Italy. Rome. Alone. At peace. The surge of adrenalin as the surge of caffeine surges through my veins.

No, it's not really the coffee.
It's the moment. The place. The memory.
Here are a few of my favorite coffee encounters from my recent European adventure.

This first photo comes from Orio, the coffee and bread shop that was my regular breakfast joint when I took the children with me in the spring of 2005 and lived in Madrid for a month. Some of the same ladies still work there. All of the women recogized "the regulars" and offered to make them "the usual." Gotta love that, especially in a city the size of Madrid.

Illy enjoyed in the galleria on the corner of the Via del Tritone and the Via del Corso in Roma. The Espressamente cafe.

Actually, this wasn't coffee; this photo is of the cup, tea strainer, and other goodies needed to enjoy a pot of tea at La Baguette. Red berry tea. Please do not fail to notice the slice of linzer cake topped with confectioner's sugar and a small dollop of whipped cream. Dessert for dinner - oh, yeah!

On one of the rainy Rome mornings, I ducked into a tiny little place called Bar Milano just across from the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, the chiesa where I sat through a mass in French. A capuccino for 95 euro cents; that's about $1.45. Nice. Two gentlemen standing at the register when I walked in. I took my place in line behind them. We each placed our order and paid at the register. The woman who took our orders and our few coins then crossed the cafe to make the drinks herself. Perfect.

As I left, she called out, "Arrivederci." Farewell. Her tone of voice seemed to express, "See you soon." Maybe that was just wishful thinking on my part.

Finally, it was time to say farewell to Europa. At Rome's Fiumicino Airport, I bellied up to the bar and ordered not one, but two, capuccini. Four packs of sugar. (Did I mention that I like the sugar??!!) A slow farewell to the well-established morning ritual. Farewell to my 2nd favorite European city. Farewell to yet another great solo adventure. Not sure if you can see it in this photo, but the cup on the left had a heart-shaped foam topping.

Ciao, Roma.
Ciao, bella.

Beginning in 2005 on that trip with the children, I established the habit of collecting many of the empty sugar packets - making sure to shake every grain of sugar out of them - and gluing them into my journal. Every time I flip through my travel journals, I come face-to-packet with the memory of coffee, of quietness, of a journey well-traveled. Nearly every sugar packet used in the coffee cups pictured on this post resides in the journal seen in the bottom photo. Inexpensive reminders of dearly cherished times.


Ella said...

I have own an Espresso machine and a Braun coffee pot that sits for guest(dust collectors in my home). I'm an English Breakfast tea girl, (organic Frontier teas). They're my fav.

You are brave.I got the "evil eye" look once for taking a few sugar packets where I live at a restaurant once. It was Sugar in the Raw brand.

Oh well, you can't live a totally squeaky clean life.

Do you think God counts that as stealing? No, I think we more then over paid for them in those over priced coffee drinks here in the USA.

Amy said...


You are so totally cool! The sugar packet/journal combo is so touching and speaks volumes about the kind of person you. I LOVE the photos! They make me want to sit down with my new, fresh journal and indulge in java, too.

I'm like you: I don't LOVE coffee, but really good, freshly ground and brewed coffee can't be beat for sipping while pondering and journaling. Throw in those regulars at the coffee shop or Starbucks, and it makes for a pretty great life.

GailNHB said...

Ella, please use the coffee pots for you too. Even just every once in a while. I like tea also, perhaps even more than coffee. But as Amy said, there is something special about drinking and savoring coffee that feels different (at least to me) than drinking tea.

As for the sugar - I don't take the sugar itself out of the store. I use the sugar in my coffee wile I am there, and keep the empty packets. If anything, I am keeping them from having to throw away my trash...

Amy, thanks for your comment too. There is something about a well-made cup of java that is extra special, even for the non-coffee addicts among us. Those quiet coffee moments are some of the best, aren't they? For me, coffee is often an experience, not merely a drink.

Ella said...

Now ladies-- let me clarify myself. I love coffee, but coffee doesn't "love" me.

I can't eat peppermints either. It relaxes a muscle that causes me to have dog gone acid reflux. Is that fair I ask?

So comprises has been a must. So tea was the next best thing. But I have made up my own whipped tea drinks with a nice, hot frothed milk topping on top with an egg beater. I believe in using supreme kitchen technology only.

See I'm back looking longingly at the photos again. Help me! I may whip one of those tea drinks up now at the power of suggestion of this blog.

Envious of you and Amy and the delights you partake in-- yes. But the pain and Pepcide isn't worth it at 2 AM.

We can't have it all and I get tea at Starbucks now too. So in my defense I wasn't knocking coffee I just can't drink it.

I do have to confess though I have packed more then my fair share of those "sugar babies" in my purse on one too many occasions. Filled ones at that. My last heist was from Smith & Wollensky steakhouse in NYC. Tucked away now in a jar.

Now I may be in trouble with the "Big Man" upstairs. I hope I don't have a flood of sugar packet thefts flash before my eyes when I meet my Creator! That would be most embarrassing indeed.

Please warn me of anymore food or drink posting of temptation here, for I do so desire them all.

Anonymous said...

Hi Gail,

I finally found a good time to "jump in". I have been reading your blog for almost a year now. I got the link through my friend Amy. I am also a friend of Ella's too!

Anyway, I love your blog. I LOVE coffee too. I mean I really, really, love coffee. So this comment page looked a little empty without a true coffee lover! I met a friend for tea last week. I'm drinking some Earl Grey as I type this on a rainy afternoon here in Virginia. The tea experience is new for me.

What a wonderful trip you had! Thanks for sharing and always inspiring.

Margaret (I even have hooked up to Lisa!! I'm not buying it either!)

Lisa said...

Oh, this is WONDERFUL!!! As a coffee lover I am soooo living vicariously through these photos and your experiences. What a creative way to journal, capture the moment, relive the essence it, etc. Great thinking to take the photos like you did. What a unique way to be able to savor that time again and again.

My dear husband rolls is eyeballs at me whenever I try to take a similar kind of photo in public. Phooey on him!

Thank you dear Gail for sharing this today. One day we will enjoy these exact moments together - in person - in Europe.
For today, though, I will drink my Muddy Water Italian Roast and think of you :-)