When it comes to coffee, Italians are reactionary: we demand a pitch-black espresso, rich in texture, its surface covered with a thin layer of froth. We do have some variations: add a teaspoon of frothy milk and you get a macchiato or switch the beans with barley and you get a vintage drink that tastes like war and deprivation but that is apparently healthier. Breakfast drinks deserve a chapter of their own: cappuccino, caffelatte and latte macchiato (Italian for “spotted milk”). Italy has a very personal, eleventh commandment, saying “Thou shalt not drink cappuccino past 11 am”.
As soon as you get out of the Italian borders, though, the coffee universe becomes confusing and the bewildered expats must rebuild their knowledge from the basics and learn to spot the traps behind familiar names. Yes, because if you go to your sweet indie cafeteria and ask for a macchiato, the barista will serve you what your Italian brain would classify as minicappuccino. The actual cappuccino is three times bigger than the one you are used to and it’s suspiciously similar to the aforementioned “latte macchiato”, i.e. an ocean of hot milk with a single espresso lost in the whiteness. Seriously, do I look like I wanna pay £4 pounds for a glass of hot milk? New species are discovered, such as the flat white, which is simply not a thing in Italy, and mocha, which has chocolate and therefore it is the thing!
Another thing that baffles the Italian in London is that everyone has his or her own personal drink, a concoction of espresso shots, milk, layers of froth, pumps of syrups and improbable flavors such as pumpkin.
I could genuinely go on forever on syrups and pumpkin: as the good Italian that I am, I’m a reactionary and my coffee shall taste like coffee. If it tastes like pumpkin, spices and rainbows and unicorns, it is not coffee, thank you. After all, my drink is black americano, no milk no sugar.