Il caffé: art, ritual, magic, and random acts of kindness (+ granita di caffé)
|June 22, 2011||Posted by ameliaps under coffee, dessert, Italia, Italian, italy, summer|
In Italy, il caffé is a daily ritual full of art and magic that brings people together, builds friendships, energizes, offers a break to the routine, and as they might say in Naples even promotes creativity! Every café has their own secrets and ratios. Every person has their preferred way of ordering or making one. Personally, I like mine lungo (long) macchiato (barely “stained” with steamed milk). I say it’s art and magic because from just hot water and ground, roasted coffee beans you can create infinite combinations (see my -probably not exhaustive nor comprehensive- list below), infinite memories, infinite stories. There is a sort of magic, invisible wave that envelops the streets in the morning with the whiff of il caffé, people are brought together over coffee, meals concluded, couples made, marriages sealed, families grown, hands shaken, contracts signed, graduations celebrated, mornings started, evenings indulged, even lives ended. You could say that the whole Italian culture can be boiled down to a small porcelain cup of caffé: a concentrated essence of high energy that can make you excited, jittery, nervous, high, chill, relaxed, or enlightened, depending on the circumstance and preparation!
I have been in Italy for the last week and have been happily reacquainted with this ancient and very civilized activity: il caffé: the coffee ritual. Ci facciamo un caffettino? (Shall we make -or go get- a small coffee?) is a common sentence you hear when people need a break during the day. Il caffé is a journey through private and collective memory, senses, culture, and experience. There is a unique aroma and scent (roasted, floral, fruity, chocolatey), taste (bitter, sweet, smooth), look (dark, foamy), body (thick, thin, velvety, creamy), even sound (shhhh, plop, clink, ahhhhh) to each caffé. You can make it at home (my choice is with a Bialetti-type machine) –and it tastes better when someone that loves you brings it to you in bed early morning – or get one at the bar (usually standing at the counter, al volo -on the go, or sitting down if you are going to spend an hour reading il giornale -the paper, or spending some time with friends: I call this slow coffee). However you take it, make it with art, and drink it with art too: it is not a science, unlike some big coffee companies have made it into over the past few years. In Italy, it still remains an art.
Small rituals say so much about the people of a place. There is a very sweet tradition in Naples that creates a series of random acts of kindness (some might call this “karma” or “pay it forward”). It is il caffè sospeso (suspended or dangling), a very ancient tradition dating back to the 1600s, in a city of nobles and plebeians. It is usually a person with more fortune that orders a sospeso, which means he pays for two coffees: one for him to drink now and the next one stays in the books as a courtesy for a homeless o unlucky person to order without shame, should they feel the desire to have a caffé. So if you happen in Naples, order a sospeso and a bit of good luck will follow you around!
Different ways of taking caffé in Italy:
Length: normale (regular espresso), ristretto or corto (short shot), ristrettissimo (super short shot), lungo (long) or alto (tall), doppio (double shot)
Dairy additions: schiumato (with milk foam), macchiato (stained: with a small amount of steamed milk), cappuccino (1/3 espresso, 1/3 steamed milk, and 1/3 foam – and see my special recipe for cappuccino here, from a tiny journeys in my kitchen post), con panna (with whipped cream), caffellatte (coffee with milk: similar to the French café au lait, this drink is typical for breakfast and accompanied with cookies or cornetto/croissant), frappé (iced coffee with whipped cream)
Alcohol additions (or subtractions!): corretto (with a shot added: usually grappa, whisky, Fernet, or anice), shakerato (shaken with sugar syrup, ice and coffee liqueur), Irlandese (Irish: with whiskey and sugar, topped with cream), alla Parigina (with boiling hot cocoa and cognac), del marinaio (with rum, sugar and lemon peel), liscio (straight, with no alcohol. Because in some regions –such as Friuli- it is common to have the espresso spiked, you might .need to ask for a liscio if you want it without alcohol).
Other: affogato (drowned: over gelato – take a look at how I make it in this post from last summer), moka (with chocolate), marocchino (espresso, cocoa, frothed milk), con cacao (with cocoa), francese (French press), Americano (hot water added to espresso), granita di caffé (shaved iced coffee, generally served with panna/whipped cream – scroll down for the recipe), caldo/freddo (hot/cold: you can request different temperatures for the coffee, the milk, or the cup), in vetro (in a glass cup), in tazza grande (in a big cup), decaffeinato (decaffeinated, a.k.a. Hag or Dek), caffé d’orzo (made with roasted barley: has no caffeine), caffé di cicoria (during war times, when coffee was scarce, people would have to roast cicory to make mock caffé. My dad recalls this -not so fondly- from his childhood during WWII).
Granita di caffé con panna
Finally, for the recipe of the day, here is the granita di caffé con panna, a perfect refreshing dessert for the middle of the summer heat. Granita is easy to make, you just need to remember to scrape it frequently to avoid it turning into a big block of ice.
|Granita di caffé con panna|
- 1/4 liter (1 cup) water
- 200 gr. (1 cup) sugar
- 1/2 liter (2 cups) brewed espresso coffee
- 125 ml (1/2 cup) chilled whipping cream, whipped with 1 Tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
- To serve: a few roasted coffee beans
- Stir water and sugar in heavy medium saucepan over medium heat until sugar dissolves and syrup boils, for about 1 minute. Cool syrup. Mix in the espresso. Pour mixture into medium-size glass, plastic or stainless-steel bowl. Freeze until ice mixture is solid, about 3-4 hours, making sure you stir and scrape every 30 minutes, so it does not harden. Serve in tall glasses alternating with sweetened whipped cream and topping with a roasted coffee bean.