One girl, six cups of espresso


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.

Tying the knot


Everyone assures you that there’s no pressure. As a matter of fact, this very statement makes my heart stop for a few seconds. Why the reassurance for something that isn’t an issue to begin with? This catch-22 forms the very core of Cypriot culture: don’t worry too much, but we’re watching you; don’t stress yourself about it, we’re already stressed out for you; no need to push yourself, we’ll push you. At times it feels as if living my life is a vicariously shared experience with half the people in this town. Oh wait, facebook granted me that.

But let me give facebook some credit. If anything, facebook redefined relationships: single and looking, it’s complicated because I’m that cool or in a relationship and it’s serious. Recently, on my newsfeed more and more relationship status changes are creeping up: from relationship to engaged and, lo and behold, from engaged to married! Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing better than seeing friends living their version of happily ever after but does this happy ending have to happen to everyone at the same time? My savings account pleads otherwise.

Add all of this in the real dimension and you’ve got yourself set up for moments of awkwardness. Last week we were in a bit of a pickle, my boyfriend and I. Seated at a local alternative hotspot with a couple of friends, drinking our wine and fooling around, we thought the alcohol had gone to our head when we saw a ring on our friend’s finger. We were flabbergasted but elated, we were delirious and exploded in riotous laughter: it was a moment of utter and complete joy.

But then.

Yes, then as we were about to toast to new beginnings, my significant other and I were the odd ones out. It didn’t matter, really, but it was an “all-eyes-are-on-you” kind of moment, and my boyfriend, not one to disappoint, was tactfully trying to remove the perrier bottle cap ring in mock-engagement to a life of gas and bottled liquified happiness. Sure, no pressure.

So here I am, hanging out here at the bottom of the barrel and I am simply echoing we are still young. Can we move to a new dimension, where I am still armed with the element of surprise and I can actually move beyond the tight little squares under my feet that dictate my directionless movement? When I get there, I’ll update my facebook status. Watch for it in your newsfeed.

I’m an L


Photo from Di's Eyes

I wouldn’t call myself a wine expert because I’m not one. If I could put a label to my relationship with wine it would be a capital L for learner. My textbook is the supermarket aisle that stores such a range of wines I’m left baffled and a little thirsty. My tastebuds take note of the different textures, but recall what is good not why. In all honesty, I’m the worst kind of student – the kind that listens while it’s interesting but zones out when we get to the nitty-gritty.

I never fooled myself that I was of the budding connoisseur caliber. My next-to-nothing knowledge has not limited my ability to enjoy good wine, and it is why I feel it my obligation to share my secrets with you fellow Ls and other wannabes. Let us begin the crash course into the world of wine tasting and selecting.

Stare. This is my first and most important piece of advice. I would strongly advise you spend a good part of your grocery time in the wine aisle staring intently at the great range of bottles. Feel a little dizzy? Take it by section! Start with the reds or the whites or the smaller, more manageable category of rosé. Once you start feeling comfortable, you will lose the initial signs of confusion and will soon realize that there is nothing wrong with choosing at random, if you’ve given the shelf its fair share of staring. It works wonders.

Try. This is of course the most important aspect for every learner. Branch out, try different wines and make a mental note of your likes and dislikes. Take a winery tour, if possible, and listen to guide explain how wine is produced, have a look at the big barrels in the basement, feel the chills running up your back from excitement but also because it’s damn cold down there. Wine tasting at a winery is the best way to learn what you like because you drink a little bit of everything. Avoid being the driver for the day and swallow every single drop of wine you’re given and focus on what tingles your tastebuds. Is it cabernet sauvignon? Do you prefer dry or semi-sweet? Find your category and you’ve already restricted the section of the supermarket you should be staring at. After the wine tasting, I would strongly encourage you to buy as much wine as you can; it’s straight from the source, it’s cheap and it will make for a great story while you enjoy it on a later date — especially if you rode there on your bicycle and actually took my advice to drink every wine to the last sip!

Avoid. Know what wines are considered too commercial and cheap. A good indication of this could be the price, but generally avoid brands such as Yellowtail. If you like Yellowtail and I have just burst your bubble of wine heaven, ignore this point and drink your way to a poor hangover. I have a bottle in the cupboard too, which I bought before I was given this very advice. Now all I have to do is give it as a present who someone who doesn’t read my blog — an easy feat.

Fellow learners, the rules are simple. If you want to read on, do so but if you want the easy way to good wine, follow my S-T-A method. It may make people look at you strangely as you spend 10 minutes staring at labels and selecting randomly while on your grocery run, but hey, you gotta start somewhere. Drink away, be merry and wear you’re L label with style. Some wineries are thankful we exist. It’s Ls like us that will try just about anything, even that god-awful stuff no one warned us about. Damn that misleading label…