At the end of a deeply satisfying meal, people around the social dinner table often become antsy and begin squirming in their seats. The conversation may be going strong, but the stomachs around the table are feeling stretched. People peer around the room wondering where dessert is, and if it will be tasty enough to warrant unbuttoning at the waist. The wine drinkers at the table are loud, and the non-drinkers are getting sleepy. How do we save this social situation and bring everyone to a place of comfort?
Easy. Coffee! Not just any coffee though, it must be a very special coffee. A coffee that will compliment any dessert yet not detract from the experience of the warm and wonderful meal just consumed. A coffee that will awaken the sleepers, satisfy the drinkers, and allow for that special moment of bonding that only occurs over a comforting cup o’ joe. Fitting this enormous billing perfectly is a teeny, tiny cupful of coffee… The Italian tradition of a good, creamy, strong shot of espresso.
A good espresso will be thicker than normal coffee and very creamy. A tiny bit of foam should adorn the surface, giving the drinker a hint of the wonderful texture and flavor to come. The quality of the foam is a good indicator of the quality of the coffee beans used to make the espresso. It takes both a good bean and the proper process to make a quality cup of espresso. At home, you may choose to use a professional style electric espresso maker (such as those they sell at Macy’s), or you can make it in the traditional way by using an aluminum stove-top espresso maker (such as the Moka Express from Bialetti).
Condiments are according to taste. Adding sugar is common. I prefer to use one teaspoonful of raw sugar, and you can always add milk or cream or a tasty after-dinner liqueur (FYI: once you add milk it is technically no longer an espresso, it has become a macchiatto). If you’re after a true Italian espresso, I recommend using LavAzza or Illy, both well-known Italian espresso coffee brands. Make sure you read the package and purchase the correct grind for your type of espresso maker.
Italy is renowned for knowing how to throw a good dinner party, and no respectable meal is ever considered complete without offering the guests “un cafe”, a cup of espresso. Pair your espresso with a tasty dessert, and you will leave the dinner table feeling full… and delightfully satisfied.