The Bilingual WebZine of ART and CULTURE – Il Webzine dell'ARTE e della CULTURA

Posted by steve On January - 14 - 2018 1 Comment

Imagine the typical Starbucks at 9:00 am.  What’s going on?

There’s probably a huge line going towards the door, everybody ordering a venti coffee for themselves and a couple friends at the office, minding their own business with a constant eye on the time. Patience is lost until coffee cups are in hands, maybe a bag of food stuffed in an armpit or mouth, and all head out the door in a hurry for work.

Now imagine a small bistro in Italy, same time, 9:00 am. The owner greets you with a huge grin and knows you by name, grabs you a small café macchiato and pleads you to take a seat while you finish your pastry with your drink. There’s no rush here in the bar, everybody’s sipping their teacups of espresso, and complete strangers may come up to you to have a chat about the weather or the local sports team that played the day before.

As an American, when I visit these cafés a lot of questions pop into my head. Why does the owner recognize me? Where are the large paper cups of coffee with the disposable cup holders? Why is everybody talking to each other, or even having some hard liquor with their morning cup of Joe?

It has only recently hit me that coffee should be about enjoyment, a social event to start off the day. Yes, these espresso shots are superb for jolting you out of your morning slump, but it shouldn’t be just about the caffeine. Americans both identify caffeine to be the enemy in the face of our cardiovascular health and the crutch to our stressful lifestyles, but really we need a little bit of saving from the lifestyle itself.

We Americans love to look at specific chemicals or substances that cause the many downfalls of our own health; for instance, caffeine has been linked to heart disease because of it’s stimulating effect on the cardiovascular system. However, we should re-examine this stance. Take a look at what the average supermarket offers in the soft drink isle: caffeinated drinks (or some even super-caffeinated) that include sodas and tall “energy” drinks. Go into the average convenience store and find little bottles filled with shots of caffeinated goo that will keep a person awake for hours on end. Some of us even get shaky if we haven’t recieved our “fix”of caffeine. Why? Why do we defend and crucify our relationship with caffeine like it’s a drug we can’t kick to the curb?

Italy offers a different view. Italians love coffee as much as Americans (it’s a different kind of drink though… American coffee is considered to be “black-water” to them, and Italian coffee is simply a shot of espresso), however they don’t suffer from heart disease nearly as much as Americans do. Why? Because it’s not the coffee or the caffeine that keeps them going, it’s the lifestyle. Albeit the Italian lifestyle has significantly less structure that would drive the average American insane, it offers a couple benefits that we from the West can learn from.

1.) Portion size – café is served in a small teacup, only 1 shot of espresso. Cappuccino is served in a small coffee cup. Sugar is rarely added, only by the consumer, and there are no syrups (unless you order a café correto = espresso with grape liquor). Pastries are small; no mega-muffins here.

2.) Time – no to-go cups, everything is drank in the café. One is expected to take their time with their drinks and savor it. It is considered rude for the barista to expect payment right away unless the consumer offers.

3.) Environment – the Starbucks business model was originally created to exemplify Italian cafés, where one could simply enjoy a coffee in an environment that would be pleasurable and relaxing to the consumer. One could read the paper or chat with a friend while having their drink just like the Europeans do. Even though American consumerism has shifted the model in order to satisfy busy clients and stockholders, the original goal still holds true for the most part. 

4.) Midday Breaks, aka “Riposo” – The most important part of the day to many Italians would most likely be the midday rest, where traditionally they would return home from work or school for a couple hours to enjoy a coffee or a drink with friends, then the largest meal of the day with the family. This tends to be a nuisance for tourist visitors, especially ones hungry for lunch, however this offers adequate relaxation to an Italian society which has been taking their daily riposo for centuries. Unfortunately, in order to remain a global competitor, many businesses are offering shorter lunch breaks to Italian workers, which in turn shapes the entire culture and in turn may doom the tradition of riposo as Italy knows it.

In conclusion, there are many facets of Italian culture and lifestyle that Americans can learn from in order to keep a society healthy. American’s unhealthy obsession with productivity and efficiency paired up with unhealthy intakes of caffeine in its various forms only justifies the stranglehold that diseases in mental and cardiovascular health have in the population. If Americans are ever to take a stand against them, we should learn from Italian friends and take a riposo, have some alcohol in the middle of the day, and talk to a stranger every once in a while. Salute!

-Steve Austin

Categories: CulinART, CULTURE of ITALY

One Response

  1. angela says:

    Great post

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