Putting in a full work week after our big anniversary trip to Rome has brought it home to me that I’m not actually an Italian woman with the means to eat out all the time and the leisure to walk off multiple two- and three-course meals every day.
But, while returning home has meant less food at mealtimes, it also means more coffee!
Since we wanted to have a relaxing vacation, we decided to stay in one spot instead of traveling around. Of course, Rome has such a huge amount of art and historical and religious sites (and the Pope!) as well as numerous romantic spots (not to mention food! and wine!) that it’s already an appealing tourist destination, but something else that attracted me to the idea of Rome was hearing that it had a “coffee culture”.
So Romans are serious about their coffee? I pictured sipping brews from different coffee bean blends in the mornings at the counters of coffee “bars” all over the city, and sampling local wines with dinner (and lunch, as it turned out). What could be better?
Here’s where the importance of doing your research in advance comes in. I did know that in Rome, caffè means espresso. Strong, black coffee — that’s great, just the way I like it. I even knew that espresso cups are very small compared to American coffee cup sizes, but we two caffeine-dependent travelers discovered to our dismay that you don’t even get those tiny little cups filled when you order “due caffè” (two coffees). Two sips and you’re done!
Amusingly, we finally realized we needed to learn how to order two “double espressos” so in the second half of our vacation, when we had finished our (large) lunch at a restaurant near the Vatican, my husband valiantly asked for due caffè doppio, and we thought we were all set. But the waiter stumped us by asking in his halting English if we wanted it in a “bigger cup or regular cup”.
Since there was PLENTY of room left in the regular espresso cup for twice the amount of espresso, we said “regular cup”. To our dismay, we received two cups with the same amount of espresso in each as usual, just double-strength! Oh, well, I guess it gave us the extra boost we were looking for for our afternoon at the Vatican Museum and St. Peter’s!
Mouse over these photos from the Vatican and Vatican Museums to enlarge them or to read my riveting captions:
Eating Rome by Elizabeth Minchilli (see my last Weekend Cooking post) has a whole chapter on how to drink coffee in Rome and there are also many blog post with better pictures and full explanations and even a Kindle e-book on the subject, so I’m not going to go into detail here, except to say that we didn’t want to cave while we were there and start ordering “caffè Americano” all the time, although we did drink it greedily each morning from the “American-style” buffet breakfast buffet at our hotel each morning. (The big urn labeled “coffee” was espresso with boiling water added to fill up the urn. Et voila! Caffè Americano!)
I knew from reading Eating Rome that the usual Roman breakfast is at most a croissant with your espresso, but the hotel provided a wide range of tourist-pleasing breakfast foods from granola and yogurt to scrambled eggs. We appreciated the effort to cater to American tourists, but I was usually still full from the previous night’s dinner which would start at the earliest at 8 p.m. and go to 11 p.m., so it wasn’t hard for me to have the Roman-style croissant breakfast, except, of course, for drinking multiple cups of caffè Americano instead of a single espresso. And except for the last day when I had TWO croissants – one plain and one chocolate chip – very American!! It was also adorable and funny that – just as we Americans got things a little bit off when we tried to understand Romans and their habits – the hotel served up steamed hotdogs in place of breakfast sausage!
My adventurous husband was disappointed in me for shying away from trying to experience actual Roman coffee culture by going into the small, dark coffee bars crammed with locals who would be annoyed by tourists coming in and drinking coffee at their counter and trying to act like we knew what we were doing with our extremely minimal Italian! Each time we passed one, he’d suggest going in and I’d chicken out and say no, it was too crowded, or too seedy-looking, or not authentic, etc.
And so we’d end up at a sidewalk cafe once again, with all the other tourists!
But, hey, we WERE tourists, after all, however much we tried to fit in.
For more on drinking coffee in Italy:
Happy Weekend Cooking!