For those of you who read my post about the 10 Italian cooking commandments, I'm afraid I can feel another moan coming on, this time directed at another Italian rip-off, it is, of course, coffee chains. On his first visit to a UK coffee shop my confused boyfriend had a lot of questions: 'What's a Mochaccino?', 'And a syrup shot?' and 'ARE YOU JOKING? £1.80 for an Espresso?!' It's something I'd never given too much thought to before but, after reflecting on this experience, I decided that another sin-list was in order so here are my top 10 issues with British/American (Italian) coffee...
1. Variety - Whenever I step into a UK coffee shop I'm always painfully aware of being worlds apart from my home in Italy where, after 10am, nobody asks for anything other than 'a coffee please', after all, what type of coffee could you possibly want to drink post-breakfast time other than an espresso?! Starbucks proudly advertises that there are over 87,000 different drink combinations for their customers to choose from whereas, in Italy, if you're able to find a drinks menu at all, it's likely to include about 5 coffees, tops. What ever happened to enjoying the simple things in life?
2. Flavoured coffee - On a similar note, my second issue with coffee chains is the different syrups, sauces and sprinkles you can add to your coffee to make sure your blood sugar levels are always kept sky high. Why on earth would you want to buy a coffee only to pump it with sugar and flavourings so that you can effectively completely mask any hint of the original taste? It's like they've created a way to make people who hate coffee think that they like it by giving them something that resembles a knickerbocker glory!
3. Frappucino - Ah, the frappucino, yet another impostor on the menu and a clever strategy which now means that even people who don't want a hot drink don't miss out on regularly handing over their cash to the coffee chain giants. A chilled coffee, the caffè shakerato, does exist in Italy but there are no plastic glasses, straws or whipped cream in sight. And don't even get me started again on the flavours!
4. Mocha - Another problem I have is that every coffee chain serves the drink mocha as an authentic Italian beverage when in fact, in Italy, coffee with chocolate is called a Bicerin and can only be found near Turin. The word moka does exist in Italy but refers to the gas-heated coffee makers used by most Italian families to make their espresso at home. No chocolate involved I'm afraid.
5. The Basic coffee - In spite of everything, I could probably forgive all the coffee-mutilation if chains could actually get the basics right. My biggest issue is that even a simple espresso is generally burnt and a bit like drinking dirty dishwater. Overall, Caffè Nero probably comes the closest to recreating an authentic coffee, but as my Italian friends point out, it's the best of a bad bunch and still very hit and miss.
6. Size - Another issue I have is the size of coffee chain coffees. Not only do they have three, sometimes four, size choices, it seems that no matter what you order it's always enormous! I may be the only one here, but when I order a cappuccino in the morning I don't want a pint of it! In Italy, the sizes are pretty standard since it's an essential part of the composition of the coffee; just as you wouldn't put water in a caffelatte, you wouldn't serve it in pint-sized mug either.
7. Price - It's enough to make you choke on your iced skinny caramel latte. I don't think I'm alone when I say that the price for a coffee these days is bordering on daylight robbery. The average espresso in Italy costs around €1 (84p), so how can Costa justify charging up to £2.20?
8. Coffee to go - Another thing that really annoys me is how takeaway coffee has become an Americanised fashion accessory, a symbol that you are too 'busy' even to stop and have a drink. My message to these people, get out of bed 10 minutes earlier in the morning! You don't see people on the tube with a bowl of Cheerios for goodness sake! It's also getting worse with automatic coffee machines in supermarkets and now even coffee drive-throughs -what is the world coming to!?
9. Pronunciation of latte - Sometimes I think if I hear another person order a lar-tay I'll pour one over their head! It's pronounced lat-tay, the Italian word for milk, so to my southerners readers please stop trying to make it sound posh, it doesn't work! I also find it quite confusing when ordering a latte, am I ordering a caffelatte or a latte macchiato? Caffelatte is milk with less foam and more coffee, on the other hand, a latte macchiato (meaning stained milk) is milk with a lot of foam and a dash of coffee, often served in a jug on the side. Either way, whenever I order a latte in the UK I never seem to get either!
10. When we drink coffee and why - My final point is not so much of a criticism but more of an observation. It seems that we Brits usually drink coffee for very different reasons to Italians. For us a coffee is often accompanied by a slice of cake, comfy chairs and friends. In Italy on the other hand, after breakfast, coffee is normally just a quick fix to keep you going through the day or to aid digestion, gone in a couple of sips and usually consumed whilst still standing at the bar.
But how do you like to drink your coffee? And what coffee do you like to drink? Please post your comments below and I promise I won't judge the milky, syrup, sprinkle drinkers out there!
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