My apologies for taking a week off from posting! It was my first week back at school and quite busy. I'll still be posting regularly this school year though, not to worry! My new weekly features will resume shortly, but this morning I'd like to share another story from Italy, as it relates to something I encountered last week.
In Italy, these little espresso machines are everywhere. You drop in some change, make a selection, and a disposable cup drops down followed by sugar, milk, and coffee! It sounds too good to be true, but actually the quality of the espresso from these machines is very good. Since traveling requires so much energy, and I was on a small budget, I would happily buy a tiny cappuccino for 40-50 cents from these machines whenever I would come across one (train stations, hostels, you name it...even my language school had one!). A cappuccino from most bars would be around 1-2 euros, so this amounted to some good savings over the course of several weeks.
Last week--and I didn't have a camera with me, sorry!--I was running errands around campus and came across a similar machine amongst an array of typical American vending machines. I was desperate for a cup of coffee but didn't have time to go to a real coffee shop. The list of selections was amusing. I can't remember them all, but I do recall one being simply labeled, "French Vanilla," making no mention of what type of coffee was inside (maybe none?). I decided to go for the plain cappuccino so I could compare it to my Italian experience.
The price was $1, however, and I only had 50 cents in my wallet. I was about to leave when I noticed that as an alternative, I could swipe my student ID to pay. Luckily I had $1.45 left on my card from when I loaded it to make photocopies last year. I saw this as a sign of serendipity, but perhaps I was getting ahead of myself.
While waiting for the machine to finish making my drink, the first thing I noticed was the size of the cup. The machine boasted that each cappuccino was 14 ounces! I know everything in the U.S. is seen as better if it's bigger, but I was just not sold on this concept as I tried to imagine a traditional cappuccino that large. I knew that somehow it was going to be compromised, kind of like those gigantic, XL flavorless apples we have come to see as normal from the supermarket. The second thing that alarmed me was that the machine had a label on it saying to press "#" after your selection number if you would like more "lightener" in your coffee. Is lightener the same as milk, I wondered? I decided that for just this once, I didn't especially care, because I was exhausted and just really wanted some coffee!
When my coffee was done, I carefully took the cup out of the machine and gave it a taste test. First impression: yuck! It had very little flavor and did not taste anything like a cappuccino, but was more like a very watered down cup of stale hot cocoa. I considered throwing it away, but didn't see a trash can. Instead, I made my way out of the building. Still no trash can. I kept sipping on it, and the flavor improved slightly for a short period. By the time I had made it to my next destination, I had somehow managed to drink 1/3 of it. The flavor had started to worsen, though, and I was a little disgusted--it ranked somewhere just below the worst gas station coffee you've ever had. Seeing a trash can near the door, I quickly tossed it in before making my way inside and vowing to leave coffee-on-the go to the Italians from now on.