One girl, six cups of espresso

Commentary

Recently I’ve taken on the role of espresso queen. I must say that I’m failing at all of my imaginary duties including managing to make the aforementioned coffee with even nominal success. But true to my nature, I refuse to let up, give in, raise the white flag or quite plainly to revert back to dear old poisonous Nescafé.

My coffee snobbishness set in on a cool Saturday morning when we visited two of our friends for brunch. I’ve been on a no-milk-whatsoever diet for the better part of this year, so at the absence of a milk substitute, I opted for a water diluted espresso, what I later discovered in my utter naivety is called a luongo. I was worried that drinking it would be a true struggle, mostly in my attempt to hide its underlying bitterness.

I knew as much from an early college mishap that happened to me days into my arrival on campus in a middle-of-nowhere town, PA. This was long before Starbucks was a language we spoke fluently on the island, so naturally all of the hot beverages sounded excitingly foreign to my tongue; so much so, that I made a pact to try each drink individually before deciding on my personal favorite (a thorough experiment, I’m sure you’d agree). Propped behing a long, patient line of caffeine-starved students, I eyed caramel macchiatos, chai lattes, cappuccinos — unable to name them at the time, of course. As I neared the register, I still hadn’t made up my mind on what to order, so under pressure to play my one-act role as customer I stated that I’d like an espresso. I kept hearing this word everywhere. I waited for a good five minutes and watched as my peers walked off with deliciously decadent calorific drinks before my own drink was called up. To my complete surprise (but surely, not to your own dear urbane readers) I was handed a tiny cup of scalding espresso. So great was my shock and embarrassment — mostly to myself, because I had higher, taller, expectations for my drink — that I sipped a bit to prove that this is what I had wanted all along. Naturally, no one was paying me much mind. The bitterness hit me like a brick to the head, and I proceeded to dispensing buckets of sugar in the tiny container, going through the motions of a person who knows what she’s doing with her coffee. As I carried my espresso steadily in my hand, I walked out of the building, found the nearest waste basket and trashed it. There was no way I would ever drink that shit ever again. Promptly after that experience, I settled on the Chai Latte as my staple.

But on that Saturday morning, when I asked if it would be too strong, my friend M— decried the myth that espresso is bitter. “Good espresso should never be bitter,” he said in a matter-of-fact tone. Yeah right, I thought. As I was served my coffee, I hesitantly took a first sip, only to realize, to my complete astonishment that it was quite certainly the best coffee I had ever drunk. So rich, so smooth, so easy to down in a gulp, were it not for its hot temperature. I was a changed person.

Soon after, on my birthday to be precise, I went to a local shop to buy filter coffee and on a whim decided to buy an espresso kettle. Completely clueless on how one decides on a good kettle, I went by my aesthetic instinct: a blue that matched my kitchen. As I pulled out my wallet to pay, the man behind the counter offered to treat me to an espresso. Feeling like quite the connoisseur, I indulged, though memories of the earlier incident burned fresh on my palate. Still, I summoned the courage to drink it in almost a shot, completely on the go, Italian-style, before I got my paper bag and left. It was bitter; thank God I had spearmint gum.

The very next morning I decided to try out my skills at espresso making. How difficult is it, you ask. It’s a lot more than I had anticipated. For starters, the first hiccup to my coffee was the very fact that I had bought a much larger kettle than necessary. This resulted in a total of six cups of espresso, even when I was the only one drinking. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but after the whole packet of coffee I bought ran out in a week, I started being thrifty with the measurements. And here appears the next problem: I could never get the water quantity and the coffee quantity just right: it was either too weak or too bitter, and the amount of coffee I made was always at least for three or four cups. My boyfriend started drinking shots of espresso, convincing himself that it’s good coffee after all; I started putting two or three shots in my morning Americano. At some point weeks after this frantic, nonsensical denial, he turned to me and said, “This tastes like shit.” I could only concur.

About two weeks ago, I managed to get a smaller kettle and you’d think that my espresso worries have been assuaged. Far from it I’m now faced with a new daunting challenge: half the times I make my espresso, it tastes strongly of soap. No matter how much I rinse it, the taste won’t easily go away. The first time it happened, appalled, I rinsed it down the drain and brewed another coffee in the six-cup kettle. The second time it happened, I drank about a fifth of it before quitting. The third time it happened, I downed half my latte. Naturally, there’s a part of me (the more rational me) wondering: Is this the price I have to pay to convince myself that I’m drinking good coffee? Isn’t it about time I whip out the old Nescafé and enjoy a frappé like a decent human being in need of a caffeine fix?

We’ll see.

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Keeping the balance

Commentary

Photo by poca-traça

I’d like to say that as I ride my bicycle past manic drivers and clouds of CO2 everything blurs as I become one with my vehicle. In reality the only thing that keeps me focused is my inner mantra: Keep your balance, don’t topple over. A quick pause is enough to start me thinking of the small tyre width, the slight swerve that might send me flying into the windscreen of the speeding car jetting down the other lane. No, the fears of the modern cyclist cannot easily be assuaged — they keep the adrenaline at an all-time high.

I only recently bought a bicycle and it’s true that you never forget how to ride one even if it’s been decades since you’ve been on an uncomfortable saddle. As I started cycling again I realized that I am invisible! Owning a bike has its burdens and this is perhaps its heaviest one. Yes, I can cycle close to the curb but sometimes it seems I might as well be riding on it. I could, but pedestrians have an even bigger problem recognizing that cyclists have their own pavement rights too. Cycling lanes? A luxury for Cyprus that is simply non-existent. Why create a new lane when we’re only just starting to fix up our roads? It feels like cycling through a mine field avoiding those crater-like potholes.

I know the solution is simple; I can protect my brain and other body partsby wearing protective gear. This has its advantages. For starters, I know I look like the biggest dork on the planet and immediately think that there’s no way anyone could avoid spotting this knight in plastic armor on the road. It’s my saving grace — I look like such an idiot, it’s began to feel reassuring.

Riding the streets of Larnaca is a dangerous enough feat as it is, and add to that my natural gift of clumsiness and you have a recipe for a potentially serious disaster. But I combat this with carefully planned routes; I consider the quieter streets, I wear my brightest clothes and as a car brushes by I hold my breath for good luck and good measure. As I cycle vehemently through streets with no name to meet friends for coffee I know that by the time I arrive I’ll be sticky with sweat and my knee might be scraped, if not bleeding. I know I’ll lock my bike against a tree I can see while I’m sitting, and then make my bruised way towards the table waiting for my disheveled company impatiently.

It’s always nice to make an entrance, at least.

The coolest spot in town

Commentary

You know you’ve come across a real treasure when there’s a sign on the window reading: “This must be the place”. The phrase sneaks up on you unsuspectingly as you walk up the stairs of a building that seems to have given up on life. Eyes focused on the marble mosaic steps, you glance up to check if you’re on the right floor — the floor that houses the gallery, that is. And then you see the epigraph like a divine sign. Why yes, this must be the place, you realize as you look beyond the glass window into a vast room jammed packed with creativity.

An invitation to enter

And then the confusion sets in. Is it someone’s house? (Maybe, but the door is wide open.) Is it open to the public? (It could be since there’s a small Menu  sign hanging outside.) Does it really serve coffee? (It looks like a shop.) And then you notice the coffee gear behind the tall counter and you sigh with relief because you really want to go in and chill out. And pretend it’s your home. I sure did.

The perfect reading corner

It’s not often that I come across something I don’t want to vent about. But this etsy-in-a-box shop by far caught me by surprise. And the coffee was just an added bonus!

The official name of the place is The House of Larimeloon and you can find out more about it here. If you’re in Nicosia and you are looking for something different, check it out. It’s a true breath of fresh air right in the middle of the city.

But be warned: you’ll fall in love with half the things there; be it retro sunnies, refurbished chairs or my personal favorite: handmade stuffed animals. I guarantee you’ll leave with a list of things you want to add to your budget for next time. But hands off the stuffed penguin — it’s got my name written all over it!

I leave you with some photos and a promise to see you there.

Hard to choose only one

Having a good browse

Colorfully playful

Our table number

Feeling "at home" with a friend

Hmm what to wear?

We were amused with the inscribed message on sugar packets. It reads: "My sweet sugar".

Reads: "Sugar as a sweet as our love"

See you all for coffee!

All photos taken by ssj_george

Let’s face it

Musings

I need to face the fact that sunny days can also be extremely windy. It is a national holiday here, and there was a parade just outside our apartment, so it was a perfect excuse to go for a walk. I think I was most amused by a little kid, held up by his dad waving a Greek flag which said RESPECT in blue, on the side. I tried to take a photo of him, but at that point the wind wasn’t on my side. I mistook that for a sign of a hot summer-like day, but no, moments later the wind roared “Eat this you fool”, and by this, I mean my hair. I walked on with a halo of frizz and a strong sense of denial.

I also need to face the fact that I’m never going to drink a frappe (iced coffee) at a coffeeshop, the way I like it. I don’t ask for much: no sugar, a little milk. But no, milk here, is concentrated and used sparingly; coffee on the other hand is scooped with a shovel. A shovel. And yet I’m still naively optimistic every time I order coffee out.

I have recently been wishing for summer to come, and along with that, ice cream, or to be more precise Italian ice cream, which entered my life last summer and has since become a serious addiction. There’s an Italian guy who owns a little gelateria here in Chania and operates it in the warmer / hotter months of the year with his family. I simply LOVE this place, and all his flavors, but perhaps I’m more fond of the whole idea of having two homes throughout the year. About a month ago I spotted a sign on the shop declaring the gelateria would be up and running again in March. I’ve been thinking that it’s pretty much almost April in my fast-forward-inclined head, so have kept wondering “Where are you my Italian friend?” Today, due to my unwavering hope and curiosity, I discovered that it’s back in business! I got a scoop and a smile of recognition. So now it’s sealed: The Italian family has made the move and I need to face it that summer is fast approaching. Finally.

And coming home, my eye always falls on an object in the most peculiar disguise. It makes my day every time and I dare you not to laugh when you have this staring back at you as you wait for the elevator to come down to ground floor.

I'm looking at you

I'm looking at you