My earliest memories are of the customers passing through my mother’s coffee shop in our small town in northwest Italy. Office workers, with their crisp suits and brusque manners. Retirees, with their slow gait and plenty of time on their hands. And the owners of neighboring shops, who usually showed up around lunchtime and always complained about the economy — but who, somehow, still had money for a daily croissant (or two). I sat by a rickety old gas stove and watched them come and go.
The common link was espresso. The shop sold pastries and savories, and drinks of both the soft and hard kind; there was enough variety to please just about any taste. But everyone who walked in the door — save a handful of tea drinkers — ended up with coffee in some form. And when Italians say “coffee,” especially in a café, they mean “espresso.” There is no other kind.