Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Coffee, cappuccino and life

I sometimes think that non-Italians are more into cappuccino than Italians are, and a little documentary I saw the other day on Netflix would tend to confirm this. It's called The Perfect cappuccino and was made by Italian-American Amy Ferraris. Who (listen to this) actually got a grant to go to Italy and study cappuccino. It's an interesting, quirky effort, although the voice-over by Ferraris was a bit annoying, what with her rising inflection in declarative sentences and pronunciation of "cappuccino" with a "cap" instead of a "cahp" sound.

But the worthwhile bit about this film is that she goes into, let's say, the social and even philosophical aspects of the matter, starting off with an unflattering comparison of Starbucks with the Italian coffee experience. I agree that when I first heard that the inspiration for the gigantic Seattle company was Italian bars, I was startled. It made me think of Charles Dickens's remark that New York reminded him of (old) York because it was so dissimilar. She correctly maintains that the difference between the Italian coffee scene and chains like Starbucks (or Dunkin Donuts) is a reflection of the corresponding lifestyles and values. With the American values putting profit first.

But, alas, this leads us to notice the major changes in Italian lifestyle as seen though the coffee-consumption ritual. The bar (cafe') is increasingly being taken over by non-Italians, sometimes (bizarrely) by Chinese. Vending machine sales in Italy lead all other European countries. And that includes vending machines selling a wide assortment of coffee beverages, as seen in the video (where you might notice a scary macchiato with ginseng and an even scarier cappuccino with ginseng). And as she notes in the documentary, coffee manufacturer Segafredo has gotten into the chain thing, and is expanding all over. Although from what I've seen, they're a hell of a lot more interesting than Starbucks.

Coffee from vending machines has actually been around for decades in Italy (sans ginseng). And it can never replace humans. Or can it? In the video below (from the 70's or early 80's), comic Paolo Villaggio plays his hapless employee Fantozzi, and finds that even the coffee machine treats management better than labor.