Counter space is at a premium in this apartment right now. And some of us are in a perpetual state of over-caffeination, from trying out… the new espresso machine.
When we moved to Europe, I didn’t care for espresso, unless it had been incorporated into a latte. I aspired to like it, but I found it too bitter and gone too soon. I have long been a steady coffee drinker, rarely without a mug in hand when I’m working, especially in the cold months. Espresso and I had a volume problem. Shortly after moving to Delft, we bought a basic filter brewer (I even blogged about it), and I would get excited when we went to Schiphol Airport because there was a Starbucks, and I could order my big 16 oz coffee to drink for roughly an hour. (Now there are Starbuckses in the Hague, and I don’t really go much. But it was a “home comfort” thing in the early days.)
Espresso trickled into our lives gradually. We were occasionally shamed at home by guests. There were times when friends, after dinner, would say, “Let’s have some coffee,” and Tim would get up and brew a big pot and we would pour some mugs and put them on the table with a sugar bowl and some milk and our European friends would blink a few times, say, “Oh… you make American coffee,” and then politely take 1-2 sips before asking us how we could drink this watery business. (The idea of coffee after dinner was new to us, too—closing the evening meal with an espresso regardless of the hour.)
There were some pivotal cups along the way. A couple years ago when the canals froze I was laid up in bed conquering some terrible stomach illness while Tim went skating with a Dutch friend. After hours in the cold, they warmed up with some coffee back at the other guy’s place. Tim came home raving about how good the espresso was, and how his friend had this fantastic machine, and gets a certain kind of beans, etc. (I think it was akin to trying a fine Belgian ale if you’ve only ever had Miller Lite.) A few months later, brainstorming birthday-gift ideas, I emailed the friend and said, “Hey, Tim really liked the espresso at your place. What kind of machine do you have?”
This was when I learned that a good home espresso machine could cost upwards of €500. Birthday ideas drifted elsewhere.
It wasn’t long before we stopped asking for “American” coffee when we traveled. If I’m in Paris, or Rome, or some little Spanish town—I want what the locals are having. In 2011, the first time we went to the Puglia region of southern Italy, we rented a little place equipped with the standard Italian “moka pot,” or stovetop percolator. I referred to it as “the coffee fountain,” for the way it would spurt and bubble. We bought one of these as a souvenir, and would occasionally bust it out at home on Saturday mornings or holidays. (It was fancy coffee.)
There were other travels, and other delightful coffee moments. As I scrolled through photos for this blog post, I realized how many specific instances of coffee I could recall.
Earlier this year, back in Puglia in the town of Ostuni, we were urged to try a local coffee specialty that was on all the cafe menus: the latte di mandorla. It was espresso, poured over a cup of ice with almond milk or almond syrup. “Don’t add sugar!” the waiter told me dramatically. This sweet, icy espresso drink was perfect for the sweltering southern heat. It just—fit… with the place, the atmosphere, everything.
I don’t remember exactly when we began talking seriously about an espresso machine. Tim was adamant that if we were going to get one, it wasn’t going to be just any old piece of junk, and so the research began. The aforementioned friend took him to a shop in Amsterdam and interpreted Dutch while options were discussed. The machines were pricey, as we had known, and so the idea went dormant for a while.
This August we went to the States, land of giant take-away coffees available at every intersection. The first few times I passed a Dunkin’ Donuts drive-through, I would turn in excitedly and order my old standby: medium-French Vanilla-cream-no-sugar. It still rolls off my tongue. And… I found myself sipping it, telling myself I enjoyed it, but internally a little confused. Maybe there was too much cream. Finally, toward the end of the trip, I said the fateful words:
“It just doesn’t… taste like anything. I only taste the milk.” And Tim at one point cautiously indicated that, yes, he had missed… espresso.
It was within three weeks of our return that the Quick machine came to live on our kitchen counter. We’ve been finishing dinner with a decaf, and I’ve been spurting milk everywhere trying to make lattes. The filter machine is feeling, understandably, a bit marginalized. It doesn’t know that in places like Delft’s Coffee Company, American-style filter coffee has just been introduced, like it’s the new wave.