Italian cafes are meant to be a mystery. They do things their own way and are fiercely proud of their identity. Everything in the bar is on a stage, partly because the Italians like to do things with a bit more panache than other cultures and partly because espresso is a way for acting out italianità. They like their espresso machines to be shiny, they like their baristas to be showmen and they like their coffee to be regulated. It’s an endlessly fascinating culture, albeit one that can feel difficult to integrate into at first.
I’ve gotten better at slicing out my little corner of the bar, but I still don’t know where I fit in. Am I the girl who orders the cappuccino? Or do I attempt to order something really complicated? Perhaps I just opt for un caffè? Do I sit, do I stand? Do I snarf it down or do I eat it slowly? I’m in the discovery process. It’s dragging, but, if I’m lucky, I’ll have a routine by 30 June.
On my first Saturday back in Pavia I went to the bar across from my university. This bar is an endless source of fascination for me. It’s so crowded, there are so many people but the one time I went there I found the quality middling. They called it a cappuccino, I called it latte and not in the American sense.
In most bars, you can sit wherever you’d like and wait to be served. Not here. At that bar across from the university if you try to sit anywhere other than the big, communal table they will but yell at you to move. The seats surrounding seem to be perpetually empty, but reserved. Perhaps for Godot.
Instead of getting the obvious, easy-to-order caffè macchiato or cappuccino, I ordered a caffè lungo macchiato hoping to get something a bit like what I ordered at Happy Bones. At least, I expected it to be a tad bigger than a traditional espresso. It was, but barely.
After switching up the coffee game, I decided to turn the brioche sampling on it’s head as well. Instead of getting a brioche vuota, I chose a chocoalte and pear filled brioche. It was the only one left and sat alluringly in the little self-serve tray, the splotch of chocolate on top calling at me to grab it. I eagerly took the bait. The powdered sugar was a small price to pay.
The brioche was fine. A bit on the sweet side, obviously, but nothing special. The majority of the chocolate was on top and the pear/chocolate mix inside just failed to sing. It tasted a bit like pear compote with coco powder and not high-quality pear compote or good coco powder at that. There was also a big hollow bit inside as if the filling should have taken up a larger space of the pastry. I’m not even sure what the brioche itself tasted like because the powdered sugar and strange filling dominated my flavor experience.
I love the idea of all of these interesting flavor combinations that Italians decide to put in their breakfast pastries, but I’m rarely impressed. They generally don’t satisfy me more than if I was to get a plain brioche. I guess I should take that as a message to stick with simplicity. Although Italian flavors may not always please my taste buds, Italians manage to do an interesting version of simplicity that I can always appreciate. At least more than their version of exciting.
Is there any cafe, restaurant or shop where you live that simply confuses you?