The clicking of coffee cups against porcelain plates, and the sound of raining falling on the cobblestone streets outside accompanies the soft chatter of conversations in languages ranging from Italian to German in a small coffee shop full of murals and books just a few winding alley ways away from Piazza Navona. The windows are foggy from the warmth of whispered words inside and the persistent downpour of rain outside on the window pane. Books splayed out before me on a table, a cappuccino in hand and a chocolate croissant waiting to be eaten. Oh how I have missed this.
Back in Berkeley I essentially lived in coffee shops, spending hours on end either studying, reading or writing in a corner of a caffe with coffee in hand and billion thoughts swirling around in my mind. Never, before I came to Rome, did I think I would not have access to the main aspect of all that is quotidian in my life back in California. All I hear about Italy is how good the coffee is, so never did I think that what I would come to miss the most was the culture of coffee in America.
Yes, there are a ridiculous amount of coffee shops in Rome with endless cups of hard shots of espresso and copious cappuccinos, but what they do not have is a coffee culture where coffee is the objective, not the means for something else. People here do not find a caffe and settle in for hours of studying or just reading a good book, there is hardly ever any sitting for even the smallest of moments.
The culture of coffee in Rome, what little I have come to understand about it, can be described as such. You enter a crowded caffe with people lined up standing at a bar. You nudge your way to the bar and ask for un caffe (a tiny shot of really strong espresso), un cappuccino, or maybe a caffe latte (a small version of what people in America deem a latte). But even in that simple event it is a very confusing process because from one caffe to another the order of events differs. In some places you must pay first and then go to the bar and show your receipt and then they make it for you. Or the other way, which is you order your coffee and drink it at the bar and when you are done you pay for it. So in every new coffee shop there is a moment of panic and confusion trying to deduce what type of caffe it is and taking the risk of looking stupid and foreign if you get it wrong.
Regardless of what you order or what order the events progress in, there is one general consensus: you drink your coffee quickly. There is nothing leisurely about this. The coffee is in small portions, and just warm enough to stay that way for maybe five minutes. You are meant to stand at the bar and down your little shot of coffee quickly, and then continue on your way to the rest of your day. Getting coffee is a pit stop, not a destination in Rome. It is done in a hurry between events and not an event in and of itself like it often is in America. Even though it is a hurried event, you never get coffee to go. You never see someone walking around drinking coffee, it is bizarre if you do and almost always an instant indicator of a tourist.
So you stand elbow to elbow at the bar and drink your coffee quickly. Some places do have seating, but you have to pay extra money to sit down and it is a whole different method of ordering. You just sit and they serve you at your seat instead of ordering at the bar and it costs quite a bit more.
So needless to say, for a girl who lives off of being able to go into a caffe and sit for hours on end slowly sipping coffee, this was a nightmarish realization and a long process in understanding how to navigate the coffee culture of Rome. It still is and will continue to be. I have been able to try some amazing cups of different coffee though ranging from chocolately to straight black coffee all over Rome. So far, I think Sant’Eustachio Cafe has been my favorite!
I have been desperately searching for a caffe where people don’t yell at you if you try to sit down and today I finally succeeded for the first time. I found a place near my university that actually seems to be okay with you sitting down for an extended period of time. Oh how I have missed this.
Red plush armchairs, books lining the walls covered in murals, and bottles of Italian wine being used as book ends; I like this place a lot, it almost feels like home, almost. I finally may have found myself a home caffe.