Archive for May, 2012

h1

and here’s one I prepared earlier … on ‘coffee central’ Trieste

May 27, 2012

This story was first published in ‘Italianicious’ magazine (Jan/Feb 2012).  Click on image to enlarge or read the full story below.

History of coffee in Trieste, Italianicious magazine

‘Italianicious’ Jan/Feb 2012

 

Whenever I think about doing my civic duty of donating blood, I stop and realise I’d be rejected as surely I must have coffee, not blood, coursing through my veins. As a young child in 1960s Sydney, my regular afternoon treat was not the glass of full-cream milk my friends drank after school, but a caffè latte. And it’s all been uphill from there.

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my mother making coffee after a special family lunch. The friendly chatter was interrupted by an explosion, followed by a waterspout coating the walls of the eat-in kitchen and our guests with a fetching shade of brown. A clogged valve on the stovetop “Moka” pot was responsible and luckily no-one was hurt, but the force was so strong that damage to the stove’s metal warming shelf was alarming. I have never used a pressure coffeemaker since, preferring a stovetop Napoletana – a “flip and drip” coffee pot – which in the right hands and with a good grind, produces a strong but smooth espresso.

I was born, surrounded by coffee aroma, in Trieste, on Italy’s Adriatic coast about 120 kms north-east of Venice. The city has a rich and unique history including a coffee importing and roasting tradition dating back more than 250 years. Today it is the Mediterranean’s main coffee port, supplying over 40% of Italy’s coffee and prides itself in being the “undisputed coffee-roasting capital of the world”. It produces many fine coffee brands including the internationally renowned ILLY Caffe, and takes its coffee so seriously that Illy family member Riccardo was the city’s mayor in the 1990s.

Trieste is dotted with Viennese-style coffee-houses from the mid 19th century (an influence from its time as part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire). Five of the historically significant cafes remain, including the Tommaseo with showoff walls of rich stuccos and bas-reliefs; the Caffè degli Specchi (Café of Mirrors) facing the grand Piazza dell’Unità and the Caffè San Marco, boasting not only original frescoes, but a loyal clientele consisting of Trieste’s respected literary and artistic community.

These cafes have all undergone renovations over the years, but retain their character. In her book ‘Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere’ celebrated British travel writer Jan Morris thinks the San Marco is the most suggestive of the old cafes and when she enters its doors feels she’s “among just the same customers as would have been there a century ago: the students   …professors…authors…flaky philosophers and a scattering of ladies enjoying their daily coffee-talk”. Missing however is James Joyce who frequented the San Marco while he lived in the city from 1904-20.

Spoilt for choice, is it any wonder Trieste locals consume twice as much coffee as the Italian average? This kind of statistic is not to be taken lightly, so whenever I visit I help the numbers by drinking copious macchiati on my personal café crawls.

My maternal grandparents lived in a centrally-located apartment on top of a cafe in Trieste: I now live in a centrally-located apartment on top of a café in Sydney. My mother is the only odd one out: she just has a coffee tree in her garden.

 

Advertisements
h1

She came, she tasted, she disapproved

May 21, 2012

In YOU’VE GOT MAIL, the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romcom, Hanks talks about a certain US coffee chain being good for those who can’t make decisions.

“The whole purpose of places like St*bucks is for people with no decision-making ability whatsoever to make six decisions just to buy one cup of coffee. Short, tall, light, dark, caf, decaf, low-fat, non-fat etc. So people who don’t know what the hell they’re doing or who on earth they are can, for only $2.95, get not just a cup of coffee but an absolutely defining sense of self: Tall. Decaf. Cappuccino.”

Fair enough. But how many people want that defining sense of self to say: Weak. Bitter. Tasteless?

I’ve kept quiet about bad coffee for too long. As a long-time macchiato drinker, I don’t mind that the macchiati I order in Sydney cafes come in a variety of sizes (well, I do, but…). What really disappoints is so many are undrinkable, giving me no choice but to leave a long trail of unfinished drinks all over town.

Tasting an inferior long black in a 5-star Canberra hotel in the late 1980s. I still adopt that scowl when required.

I remember watching the 1960s US sitcom GREEN ACRES. One of the main characters – the newly married Lisa (Eva Gabor) – prepares the daily breakfast coffee for husband Oliver (Eddie Albert). The thick, tar-like sludge that oozed from the pot looked shocking to me back then. Today I’d probably drink it in a heartbeat.

My coffee credentials are firmly steeped in an Italian heritage that takes its caffeine seriously. Trained as a small child by my father to grind the beans on a manual machine in my lap, I still bear the dents on my inner thighs where I clutched the grinder. Crunch crunch crunch, then into the stovetop Moka. My place of birth is responsible for this obsession and I freely admit to withdrawal symptoms between visits. (In the Jan 2012 issue of ‘Italianicious’ mag, I talk more about this in ‘Trieste and the Meaning of Coffee’ – see link or in next post).  http://www.flickr.com/photos/plumdumplings/6845911655/in/photostream

A good coffee is a revelation and I had fully intended that my first blog should include a recommendation or two for local cafes, however, chances are the barista who makes my coffee today will be gone next week. Sydney, you’re such a fickle town.

This is not meant to be a food blog, although if the stars align and I find a cafe where the coffee is consistently good – with a perfect crema, a full body and no hint of bitterness – I’ll certainly share. Suggestions welcome too.

(The writer is still suffering the after-effects of a nasty morning cafe coffee and apologises for the tone. Women in the 17th century were banned from coffeehouses for less than this!)

h1

Hello world!

May 21, 2012

Welcome to my blog.

‘The Good, the Bad and the Italian’ may sound like a 1966 film, or a song, but really just captures the spirit of future content on the site.

I’ll be writing about things that interest me as well as the occasional rant (why not – keeps things interesting). And of course stuff n’ nonsense with an Italian connection.

If you like what you read – or want to contribute ideas – feel free to comment at the bottom of the post. Don’t be shy, just jump in.

I hope you enjoy it.

Ambradambra

%d bloggers like this: