The „Caffé“ – what in the US would be called espresso – seems to be a simple drink, but it is not. It is a religion, and its preparation a religious ceremony. The „Caffé“ is what moves the Italian nation. The fist staggering steps every morning are directed into the kitchen, to prepare the dense, black, strong liquid. No lunch, no dinner without „Caffé“ to celebrate the closing of a meal. Classically, the „Caffé“ at home is prepared in a “mokka” – a little coffeemaker which is sat on the stove. And this is where – as with every religion – differences begin. How to prepare a good „Caffé“? After five years of living in Italy and hearing my own „Caffé“ preparations being accompanied by frantic “mai che cavolo fai?” (“what the heck are you doing”) from my Italian friends every time I thought that I had resolved the puzzle, I called for a „Caffé“ summit. To decide on the issue once and for all.
The only thing not debated, are the ingredients water (bottled, not from the tap, as not to interfere with the pure taste of the „Caffé“) and ground coffee beans (from a bag of beans or ready ground coffee that is not open for longer than 3 weeks).
When it came to water levels, emotions started to run high. Discussion if the water container must be filled exactly below the little valve, exactly to its middle or rather filled completely led to loud voices waging back and forth and at a point I was wondering if tonight would be the end of some lifelong friendships. Through all the heat, no one was able to give me a reason for their choice – no explanations about physics and water pressure, but simply “e più buono” (“it tastes better”).
And the coffee? Press it firmly into its little strainer? Yes, said one. It becomes denser and stronger! Yes, but only if you take a toothpick and make three holes into it, added the next. Nooooo, interfered the rest. Pressing makes it too bitter, you have to fill the strainer loosely. Yes, said the next, but fill it over the top. You have to heap a little mountain of coffee on top – loosely. The remaining heads present around the table nodded. Yes, yes, a small mountain. I gave them an astonished look: would this mountain not be pressed down by the upper part of the mokka? Would that not be the same then pressing from the beginning? No, was the answer: that way it is “più buono”
And the cooking process? Have the water pass slowly to get denser and stronger, everyone agreed with that. But how could that be achieved? Well, turn the flame on its lowest, with the lid closed, said one. Noooo, said the other, turn the flame high, with the lid open, so the cold air can get into the mokka, and turn down the flame the moment the coffee starts to flow. Almooost said the third group: turn the flame on low, with the lid open and close it as soon as the coffee starts to flow.
I sat around the table and was desperate. Because over the discussion we had finished the meal, enjoyed the sweets and it was time to prepare the “Caffé”. Beaten, I pushed back my chair, got up and reached to my mokka. My hand was shaking when I picked up the water bottle. I poured, and sure enough, when I put down the bottle, I heard voices rising: “Ma nooooooooooo, che cavolo fai”?