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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

Italian coffee will take off the spring chill

Photo: Florence's famous Duomo, on a cool night between rain showers.

It’s raining today in Florence. Spring here in Italy has been what we normally experience in Spokane – an extension of winter. Cold, wet and often miserable.

Except that we’re in Italy. And anytime you find a decent coffee place, you realize just how lucky you are. And by decent, I mean … well, pretty much any coffee place you stumble upon.

Florentines have so many coffee spots it’s virtually impossible to count them all. Every bar on every corner will give you some version of a coffee drink, from a caffe normale (simple espresso) to a cappuccino (a shot of espresso served in a larger cup with steamed milk) to a macchiato (a shot of espresso with just a splash of steamed milk) … and so on.

 We all have standards as to how to judge a cup of coffee, both in the U.S. and elsewhere. In Italy, those standards often have to do with atmosphere. You can find great old buildings, with immense bars and baristas dressed in pristine white who serve cappuccini boasting designs in the milk that are pure art. Tourists in particular love these places.

Or you can opt for the cheap corner bars, the ones that serve a local population that drinks (and maybe eats a brioche) while standing – the whole process taking maybe five minutes and costing less than 3 euro (a little less than $4).

I prefer the corner bars. But just as I judge most things in Italy, I tend to spend my money in places where I feel appreciated. A year and a half ago, when I worked for a month in Rome at an online news agency, I stepped into a bar a minute before 7 – a bar at which Italians were already drinking their coffees – and I was refused service. I had to wait for the bar to open, the barista said with a sniff. And when was opening time? I asked. At 7, naturally. Well, excuse me. Despite its sitting just below the office I was working in, I never went back. So many choices, so little time for attitude.

This brings me to the Caffe Accademia, a Florentine bar that sits on the Piazza San Marco. Its appearance is hardly prepossessing, what with its only distinguishing feature being a red “Illy” sign out front, advertising the type of coffee it serves (Trieste’s best). The hall-like space holds barely enough room for four or five medium-size people. And no one speaks much English.

But for the past several years, as I have taken classes at Gonzaga University’s Florence program (or simply visited with the faculty members I know), I have stopped in and ordered my cappuccini or macchiati at Caffe Accademia. And I have always been greeted with a smile and a “prego” to my “mille grazie.”

In coffee serving, as in most everything else, substance tends to win out over style. 

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