Espresso, the making, consuming and enjoyment of a properly made Espresso is another facet and time honored tradition of Italian-Americans and their culture. We do love our properly pulled Espresso. A properly pulled Espresso is a thing of beauty and refinement, and must be done just so. We can and do make Espresso in our homes with either a Neapolitan or Moka brewing device, and now these days, there are any number of expensive new-fangled home espresso makers, more on that later.
Some might be surprised but the great art of the perfect Italian Espresso has been around for just about 110 years. Yes Italians drank Espresso before that, but it was only developed into a “Fine Art” that it is today, just a little more then a hundred years ago or so when Luigi Bezzera developed the first Espresso Machine that we know today. After this landmark in Espresso history, the consumption and popularity of Espresso grew rapidly. Caffes and Espresso Bars popped up everywhere all over Italy. These Espresso Bars were places to have an Espresso and socialize. And in Italy, there is a whole act and ritual to going to an Espresso Bar for your habitual morning coffee. And it’s not just for the Espresso but some socializing, a bit of chit-chat, gossip, political talk, sports (Soccer/Futbol), this-that-and-every-other-thing. This morning Espresso is quite ritualistic in Italy, and is practiced by most, and in every corner of the country, on every other street corner in cities like; Rome, Bologna, Palermo, Milano, Verona, all over. And it is quite the sight to see, especially if you’re an American going for the first time. In caffes and bars in Italy it is at the stand-up Espresso bar where all the action takes place. When you go into a caffe (a.k.a. Bar) in Italy and have a Espresso, Cappuccino, whatever, and sit at a table, that Espresso will cost you an additional 50% or more than it will if you consume it standing up at the counter at the Espresso Bar. It’s a tax thing. The caffe owners are taxed on their tables and this tax gets passed on to the customer. Basta!
Anyway, the ritual of the early morning Italian Espresso? People get dressed, leave their homes and are on their way to work, but they don’t go right from their house to their job. No they have to have an Espresso and the ritual of the Espresso and some Chit-Chat (BS) with a quick stop at their favorite local caffe. They might leave their house then go to an Espresso Bar near their home before going to their job, or they may head to their job, then get an Espresso at a favored caffe near the work-place. They might even do both, get an Espresso in their neighborhood before heading to work, then stopping at an Espresso Bar close to their workplace before bopping into work.
Well, that’s the way they do it in Italy, quite a ritual and amazing to see. In America, Italian immigrants to cities like New York, Boston, Providence, and Philadelphia opened Social Clubs that served Espresso, maybe some sandwiches, soup, soda, Biscotti, and Anisette Toast, and Cannoli that they bought from a nearby baker. These Social Clubs which sprung up in neighborhoods like the Lower East Side of New York or what is now called Little Italy, in Boston’s North End, and San Francisco’s North Beach. These Social Clubs (Caffe) were primarily of and for the working class, and were for Italians. The clubs were for Italians, and people of other nationalities did not go into them unless they were brought in by an Italian guy from the neighborhood. And that’s the way it was back then.
Espresso e Dolce at home? When I was growing up and went to my Aunt Fran and Uncle Tony’s house in Lodi, or to Aunt Helen’s for Sunday Dinner, and we ate our meal, and it moved on to coffee and dessert, this was quite a sight that brings back nice memories for me to this very day. And it was a wonderful ritual, and unlike the quick grab your Espresso, Chit-Chat for a few minutes and run out the door as is done at caffe’s and Espresso Bars in Italy, the Espresso was anything but Espresso (Fast) at Bellino Family meals, as is with millions of Italian-American families over the years. No, this was no quick hit-and-run affair. The coffee and dessert course at our family gatherings was the longest portion of our all day affair of the Sunday Meal. My Aunts and Uncles would sit around the table, we (the Kids) would too, but we would go back and forth, cause this sit-down at the table usually lasted about 3 hours, maybe more. We’d sit down, and Aunt Fran and Aunt Helen had the Neapolitan going with Espresso. The table was laden with all sorts of goodies; Cannolis of course, one or two different cakes, and an assortment of Italian Cookies and Pastries (Sfogiatelle, Mille Foglie). There was always enough to fill Pastry Shop Showcase, “I kid you not!”
The table full of my aunts and uncles was a wonder. They’d sit around drinking coffee, eating pastries, and talk-talk-talk, about politics, sports, gossip, this-that-and-everything. My uncle Frank who was the Ring-Leader could have solved all the Worlds problems, right there at that table, filled with Cannoli, Biscotti, Coffee (Espresso), cakes, Anisette, heated discussion, laughter, and a “Bundle of Joy,” all over Espresso.
Aunt Helen and Aunt Fran made the Espresso in Neapolitan Espresso Maker. The Neapolitan is from Napoli, Italy. It was developed so Neapolitans (and all Italians) could make Espresso in their homes. The Neapolitan is a two-piece device whereby, you fill the bottom of the vessel with water, the ground espresso goes in the middle and you screw on the empty top. To make Espresso with the Neapolitan you put the device on the stove over a flame with the piece filled with the water on the stove. The water heats, and when it comes to the boil, you turn the flame off, flip the vessel over so the hot water is at the top and will then drip down through the ground coffee to make the Espresso. The Espresso is not as good as that you’d get at a caffe or Espresso Bar with a large machine, but it’s good enough, and adding a little shot of Anisette is never a bad thing, something my Uncle Frank always did. This is called a Caffe Corretto, the act of adding a few drops of your desire liquor into your espresso. You can add; Grappa, Sambucca, Brandy, Anisette, or other liquor to make a caffe corretto. At Aunt Fran & Unlce Tony’s, it was always Anisette. Basta.
I Bought in NAPOLI 1987
As a child it was always something to see, watching Aunt Fran or Aunt Helen go through the pleasant little ritual of making Espresso in that curious looking contraption, the Neapolitan. As I said, it always intrigued me, and when I took my first trip to Italy and was in Napoli walking through a street market and spotted a merchant selling Neapolitans and other kitchenware’s, I just had to get myself one, a Neapolitan of my own and from the great city it was invented in, Napoli. I also brought back some beautiful ceramic plates from nearby Vietro sul Mare on the nearby Amalfi coast, and I’ve been making Espresso with my Neapolitan (bought in Napoli), and eating Spaghetti on those beautiful Amalfi Coast Plates from ever since, a joy, and a way to bring Italy into your own American home. Doing so, brings back beautiful memories of; Positano, The Amalfi Coast, Sicily, and the rest of Italy. If you can’t be there (which is a shame), then bring Italy into your home. And that is what we do, every time we sit down to a meal, a glass of wine, or a simple little cup of Espresso, “we bring Italy home.”
ESPRESSO is Excerpted from SUNDAY SAUCE by Daniel Bellino Zwicke
SUNDAY SAUCE -
When Italian-Americans Cook
Available in Paperback & Kindle on Amazon.com
When Italian-Americans Cook
Available in Paperback & Kindle on Amazon.com
Cannolis Were Always on The Table
And a Bottle of Anisette
SECRET ITALIAN RECIPES
A MOKA POT
For Making Espresso
Toto & Peppino
with a NAPOLITAN
The BAND of HONEST MEN 1956