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  Cornell University

Cornell in Rome

College of Architecture, Art and Planning

Coffee Culture

I love coffee. I work at the Green Dragon Café at Cornell, and despite its coffee being subpar, its café culture is very lively. I drink a coffee (or two, or three) every day, and enjoy a variety of brewing methods. Coming to Italy, I was excited to experience good espresso everywhere I turned and to observe Italian coffee rituals. Little did I realize that the cultural divide lies in much more than just the quality of coffee.

At college, I have several favourite rituals surrounding coffee. When I’m particularly stressed out, I love to order a huge, hot, 16-ounce americano and carry it around like a comforting accessory. I end up drinking it slowly, to the point that it gets cold before I finish it, but that doesn’t bother me. Instead, the familiar bitter taste helps me concentrate. It’s almost like listening to one song on repeat while working on a project (which I’m doing right now as I write), not because the song is so incredible, but because it serves as a metronome to my work.

I also really like going to coffee shops to study and to read. I’ve even AutoCADed at both Gimme and Stella’s in Ithaca. There is something so entitled but so wonderful about paying for one drink and then taking up a whole table for several hours. The best part about it is that it’s completely expected because everyone around is doing the same thing. The coffee shop becomes the public library and the public living room. Baristas like it too: they get to know the regular customers and to curate the music and atmosphere for them.

I could write a thesis about the American coffee shop. Having indulged my nostalgia a little, though, I will write instead about the Italian coffee bar. First off, “bar” is an important point. Although you can certainly find a table and be served coffee while sitting down, you will pay at least three times as much for the same drink. Italians opt to order and drink their coffee while standing at the bar. This is very cheap (€0.80 for an espresso!), but also tends to speed up the process, making the ritual into one of efficiency instead of one of enjoyment. Most of the time, the espresso is incredible, but drinking it feels like I’m just taking medicine against lethargy instead of sipping on my favourite drink.

Looking for a way to recreate the coffee experience I’m used to, I’ve started to make coffee at home. In Ithaca, I had used a French press, but in Italy the moka pot is king. So far, it’s been enjoyable and closer to the “slow coffee” experience I’m looking for. That is, except for the time I almost burned down my apartment. One morning last week, I put our old and charred moka on the stove and promptly forgot about it. I realised my mistake only when I smelled smoke while showering. When I ran out, my roommate Kevin had already dealt with the situation, but it was too late to save the moka pot. Its lid and handle had slowly melted into something resembling contemporary art, and the bottom compartment seemed to be vacuum-sealed shut. Since then, older, wiser, and armed with a brand new moka, I’ve had no such experiences, but my roommates now make sure to tell me if I leave a pot boiling for a little too long.

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