The Coffee Complex
There is nothing sweeter on a night filled with bitter homework than the aroma of Italian coffee seeping into every corner of my house. And honestly, if I had to pick one smell to smell for the rest of my life, I'd pick the scents of morning coffee breweries over the smell of Old Spice cologne any day.
But where does this fascination of coffee come from, you may ask? I think it's part of my blood. Yes, the almost-ancient notion that New Jersey Italian DNA is composed of coffee, GTL, and hair gel is actually partially true. The traditions of my elders have been passed through the generations into what I now like to call "The Coffee Complex" that all us Italian-Americans seem to have.
I am fortunate because my grandmother lives on the other side of town, so I visit her as often as I can. Among the rush of college applications, homework, volunteering, writing, editing, and managing Her Culture, it's hard to find the time to go visit her. But every time I do, she always offers me one thing: coffee. She hugs and kisses me, sometimes on both cheeks, and then follows her greeting with the question that I can never say no to, even if the time it takes to brew the coffee is less time than I have to spend there.
Coffee, I believe, brings people together. I meet my friend Adiana at Starbucks for a latte every time she comes home from college. And before you yell at me for classifying Starbucks as Italian coffee, let me just mention that no, it is not as authentic
as it could be, but yes, at least they try. I mean, "Venti" does mean 20, and that is the name for their 20 ounce drink...
Anyway, at least in my experiences, coffee brings people together. I meet Adiana for coffee. My grandmother and I have some of our best discussions over shots of espresso. Being Italian-American makes me very dependent on taste and the implicaitons of taste. Sharing the same affinities for a certain coffee makes me feel like I have an automatic connection with that person, and definitely starts off a very good friendship.
But most importantly, coffee connects me to my heritage. Though early Italians did not discover coffee beans and coffee bean grinding, they were the major catalysts for the spread of the coffee trade throughout Europe. The vast trade between Venice and the Muslims of Northern Africa brought many African goods to Europe, one of the most important being coffee. Venician merchants traded their goods in exchange for coffee, and then presented coffee drinking to the wealthy nobility. The merchants would charge great amounts of money for the beverage, and after Pope Clement VIII in 1600 allowed all Catholics to drink it, coffee soon became widely accepted. And, as we know today, the rest truly was history...
In summation, no - just because I live close to the Jersey Shore does not mean that my Italian-American DNA is solely made up of excessive tanning and lingual errors. My DNA is partially coffee My ancestors brewed and sold coffee. They consumed coffee. They traded coffee with the wealthy. They sipped out of cups with their loved ones and something was clearly unifying in its aroma.
I have The Coffee Complex. I go to Starbucks every other day and I order Pumpkin Spice Lattees like nobody's business. I do not necesarily save it for special occassions, but I do find that special occassions can happen while drinking it. And maybe that's why I love it - because that hint of knowing history but being completely unaware of the future is what coffee, and life, are all about.