OK, I’ve finally given in to Starbucks. For ten years now, I’ve shrugged off the Starbucks “ambiance” simply because I really don’t like coffee all that much. But in the last few months, I’ve enjoyed a cappuccino and free WIFI complements of Starbucks. There is also an added bonus of the free mp3 iTunes downloads every Tuesday.
Why I am onto Starbucks? Well in the spring of 2006, I traveled with a group of high school students in France and Spain. Everyday, I lamented at the coincidental passing of a Starbuck store. No matter whether it be in Paris, Lucerne, or Madrid, the “kids” always migrated to a nearby Starbucks. Even if the Eiffel Tower or Plaza Mayor was sure to appear around the next corner, Starbucks always won out. All I can figure out is that Starbucks provides an “Americana” taste of home in a foreign land.
European coffee is strong. Regardless of the county you’re visiting, it is sure to give you a supercharged jolt of caffeine. Coffee varies according to the season. Take Greece for example; could it be they invented the “frappucino?” Visit Athens in July or August, and you’ll find the locals drinking their special blend of very strong iced coffee. By noon, when it is unbearably hot, you still find the locals sipping their own brand of “frappucino.” But come sunset, you’ll find lots of men sitting neighborhood cafes sipping their own hot coffee.
In Italy, any self-respecting local would never think of drinking anything but a quick shot of espresso after noon. Italian cafes, bars, and even highway rest stops serve some of the best espresso to be found. Espresso is a highly concentrated coffee served in a little “one sip” cup. It’s simple to get a shot, but you’ve got to know the system: go to the cash register, order your drink, pay your bill, take the receipt to the coffee counter, and give it to the barista. Soon, you’ll have a frothy dark brown liquid served up in a tiny cup and saucer. Don’t sit, stand at the highrise table and enjoy.
Want a cappuccino? Italians would never think of drinking one outside the morning hours. I’ve heard it said on many occasions that only tourists drink a cappuccino after noon.
Spain is the same, except the coffee is stronger and more concentrated! France is a little better with its “French-Pressed” coffee, but it is still stronger than what we get in North America.
Germany has tempered their morning coffee to North American standards. Their coffee most closely resembles what we have in North America. But, that’s not quite true in Vienna where coffeehouses were first modeled after those in Turkey. Here you’ll find rich, full-bodied coffee which will give a “caffeine buzz” quicker than any I’ve ever experienced.
The bottom line is that coffee is not just coffee, each country has its own twist to the coffee grinder. But, you can always count on it being different than what you get at home. Enjoy and savor… it’s truly European!