The colors of coffee

7 Feb
These are my parents. It is their wedding day. Mom wore a blue dress, dad a grey sport jacket. Nothing fancy.
You can see by the classic Neopolitan (flip and drip) espresso pot that their celebration is nearing its completion. It is how a lot of our family gatherings end, even today.
You may not think anything mysterious or unusual here. However, listen to the language and then decide.
“Do you want brown coffee,” members of my family will ask at meal’s end, “or demitasse?”
This is when first-time guests begin to scour the room, searching for a kindly face who might provide them with a freaking clue.
Literally, you are being asked to choose between a hot American coffee and an empty “half cup,” or demitasse. It’s a French word. Why my Italian-American family used it so determinedly I cannot say.
Practically, of course, my people would never be so rude as to offer a person, well, nothing. What they are really asking is whether you would like a regular coffee or an espresso that is served in a demitasse.
As time has passed the language has changed somewhat. Rarely is the French term employed, but neither is the proper espresso.
“Brown coffee or black?” became quite commonly used, or the even simpler “Brown or black?” Once it became evident that brown attracted more takers, a simple “Black?” whispered to those who exhibited such tendencies sufficed.
I align myself strongly with the whispered-to crowd. Even my house “brown,” sourced from the same small coffee roaster in Brooklyn for many years, is, at my direction, 80 percent espresso beans.
Which, as you might imagine, can make the brown versus black coffee debate a murky topic around my house. 
And don’t even get me started again on the whole demitasse thing.

8 Responses to “The colors of coffee”

  1. Claudia February 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm #

    Never heard the word espresso in my home or my aunts and uncles. \”Brown or black?\” was the question. My elders would be amused at the designer coffee revolution and the prices. I still have my percolating espresso maker – now about 30 years old. And I covet your mother's dress.

  2. Fred February 7, 2012 at 5:57 pm #

    Since we are baring our souls (What is it carne faccio? The weather has you all drippy and personal like or what?), how about these abuses of coffee nomenclature; \”American coffee\” and, my fave: \”expresso\”!

  3. Mister Meatball February 7, 2012 at 6:06 pm #

    Claudia: I knew I couldn't be alone.Fred: Yes, I am drippy. But from days in the frigid far north, not related to my soul, if I still have one. Ah yes, \”expresso.\” Methinks that is a fast-food drive thru, no?

  4. Fred February 7, 2012 at 7:16 pm #

    One more back atcha–this from the \”We're not in Kansas anymore\” file: First biz trip to Seattle in the ancient 80s. Look out my hotel window where a McDonald's below has a huge banner promoting \”Espresso Coffee\”. Really? At McDonald's? The rest as they say, is coffee history.PS: I didn't try it.

  5. Charlene Ann Baumbich February 7, 2012 at 10:04 pm #

    This is one more reason I drink tea. Coffee is so complicated.

  6. Mister Meatball February 7, 2012 at 10:22 pm #


  7. Robert February 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm #

    Just a note to let you know, you have another fan. Unfortunately, I've looked over your blog at 7am and find myself checking my desk drawers for meatballs… I'm so stinkin hungry now…

  8. Mister Meatball February 29, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

    Robert: Welcome and thanks.And, hey, there's never a bad time to eat a meatball!

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