Italian nectar

It’s not wine, though wine is a close second.

It’s espresso.

My usual pre-race ritual includes a double espresso. It doesn’t feel like a race without it. Something about that creamy, slightly bitter espresso taste on my tongue and in the back of my throat makes it feel like race time.

It wasn’t always like that. I’d always been a coffee drinker, and had tried espresso before but didn’t like it.

Then in 1997 I went to Italy.

The first morning at breakfast I had a cappuccino, since everyone else was having one.

I’d never tasted coffee like that. From that moment I was hooked. For the next 2 weeks it was cappuccino for breakfast then espresso in the afternoon. (The Italian way says you do not drink cappuccino after breakfast. Only foreigners do that.)

And then the espresso before racing. This was natural, because all the races seemed to do their registration at the local bar. 30 minutes before the race there would be a line of racers all ordering their espresso.

Meanwhile the registration people would be typing in the entries — on a real, mechanical typewriter. I asked, “wouldn’t it be faster to use a computer?” The answer went, “yes, but then they wouldn’t be able to sit around here and talk and drink coffee”.

I think the Italians have it right.

When I came back I had this espresso obsession. Only I could not find anything that resembled what I had in Italy. Not at Starbucks or Caribou or any place like that. I was told, “it’s the water”, or “it’s the Illy coffee”, or “it’s the barista”. Whatever it was, it just didn’t taste the same here.

I went back 2 years later, and it was the same.

I eventually bought my own espresso machine. I can’t duplicate what the Italians can do, but it’s close enough to get me into the racing mood.

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