Sunday, July 30, 2006


My little problem

I have a problem. I LOVE the cappuccino. Love. It. This might not sound like a very big problem to you, and certainly it is not on par with world hunger or even a bad relationship. But I am here to tell you that when you love the cappuccino as much as I do, it’s a problem.

Why? Because I live in the United States of America. Being a cappuccino lover in America is setting yourself up for heartbreak. Every time I go into a new café, I feel like Charlie Brown trying to kick the football. All previous experience indicates that what I’m about to do will be a disaster, but I let myself get suckered into it anyway.

But maybe it’s the constant failure to find what I’m looking for that keeps me obsessed. Because I AM obsessed. I will go miles and miles out of my way to try a new cappuccino. I lie awake at night thinking about them. I even suspect that the cappuccino is the reason I keep finding excuses to go live in Italy for large chunks of time.

American cappuccinos are typically way too large, far too hot, and served in paper cups whose steep sides make it impossible to fully experience the cappuccino in a single sip. They’re also topped with stiff peaks that would be more at home on a key lime pie than a cup of coffee. Occasionally, they have been befouled with cinnamon.

But I can’t stop searching. Because every once in a great while, I find a really good one. Not too hot, so the milk stays sweet. Not too big. A perfect blend of espresso and milk in that unique, unforgettable texture that inevitably gets described by everyone in the coffee business as “velvety.” But even the perfect cappuccino doesn’t last long. The longer you let it sit, the more the airy parts separate from the liquidy parts. You can stir and swirl and what have you, but the truth is, it’s those first few sips that are heaven. And then it’s over. And I have to start the search again. I keep thinking that I will get sick of it someday and move on to something else. But this obsession has lasted a loooooong time. Boyfriends, apartments, cars… they have come and gone. But my obsession with the cappuccino just keeps hanging around.

A while back I even started making a documentary film on the history of the cappuccino. I thought that would help me get over it. But after four years of traveling all over the place and tasting hundreds of cappuccinos I am as curious as I ever was. If anything, the cappuccino has become MORE irresistible to me, because in the course of working on my film, I’ve found some excellent cappuccinos in some very unlikely places. So now the compulsive side of my personality just can’t walk past a coffee shop without wondering if, against all odds, the world’s best cappuccino might be waiting for me just feet away.

So I’m starting this blog to help me deal with my obsession. The idea is pretty simple: I’m going to taste a lot of cappuccinos. Then I’m going to write about them. I will also probably write a thing or two about the places in which they’re served. Because the cappuccino is an inherently social beverage. You just can’t make a really good one at home. And in addition to being deadly serious about the cappuccino, I am fascinated with the coffee shop as a social space.

There’s another important reason I’m starting this blog: my desire to find kindred spirits. With the exception of my very patient, quality-hound best friend Emily, I have hardly met anyone who will sit still for more than 60 seconds of discussion of the cappuccino. I feel a little lonely in my obsession. So if you are out there, reading this, and some relevant thought pops into your head, please feel free to join in the conversation. Or really, any kind of a thought will do. I want to hear from you!

My next entry will be a detailed breakdown of what makes a good cappuccino good. And even of what makes a cappuccino a cappuccino, at least in my opinion. But I’ll leave you with this central concept: a good cappuccino should be a fluid experience, both in terms of texture and flavor. It should be soccer, not baseball. It should be a sauce, not a salad. It should be analog, not digital. Do you see what I’m getting at? More soon…

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