Espresso With *Frothed* Milk!

December 22, 2012

By Connie Nompelis

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They say that some things simply can’t be translated. The subtle nuances of a language cannot be learned by text alone –oh no- they must be stumbled over in real, embarrassing life. I learned this in Greece, while chasing a dream of the perfect cup of coffee.

It was a difficult time. I don’t know how I made it through, to be quite honest. I began with Greek coffee, and quickly dismissed it as out of my character. The tiny cups, half-filled with undrinkable sludge marked my initiation into the world of Greek caffeine. While I admired the cute little pot in which it is brewed, I simply couldn’t bring myself to enjoy the drink. I took large, American-sized gulps, and always choked on grounds.

“Slowly, slowly,” my Greek companions instructed. “Don’t gulp. When you hit the grounds, stop.”

I couldn’t grasp the delicacy of the experience. What’s even worse: I wanted milk. No sugar, just milk. Impossible!

The next step was to try the ubiquitous “Frappe.” It sounded like something you might find at Starbucks, and so after a week of tiny-cup torture I decided to give it a try. The Frappe is cold, mind you. It was hot outside though, so I gave it a shot one afternoon.

Ack!

Made with Nescafe, the Frappe was unbelievably, chemically bitter. Of course the Greeks modify bitterness by adding copious amounts of sugar until the result is something akin to instant-coffee candy. At least you can get it with milk.

Onward I charged toward the next attempt. I ordered a cappuccino. It was okay. The French have made their mark across Europe, and Greece is no exception. You can get a decent cappuccino.

But what about my milk? I whined to anyone who would listen. I want Café au Lait!

I tried to explain what I wanted, both to waiters and friends. It just HAD to be possible, I argued. A bit of Espresso, topped not with foam but with MILK. Preferably steamed, but we can just start out simple…

It got to the point where I decided to schlep a Moka Pot across the Atlantic for those biannual trips to Greece. If nothing else, I would make Espresso with hot milk by myself. I did just that for quite sometime.

Now I’ll tell you: I have been studying Greek for quite some time, and feel like I can communicate and get around just fine, thank you. I never would imagine that something as simple as communicating the concept of a “latte” could be so arduous. But indeed, my friends, it was. The handful of painful endeavors went something like this:

(Translated from Greek)

“I would like a Latte”

*insert brilliant smile and nod, as I silently pray that they understand*

“Cappuccino?” The waiter would ask, head tilted in the standard “you fucking American” posture.

“noooooo… LAH-TAY… that is to say: espresso with MILK!” I would enunciate in my clear, kindergarten Greek.

“Frappe?”

Jesus H. Christ.

My head shaking vigorously… NOOOOOOO…

Well, I am pleased to relate that I discovered the key, finally. The morning dawned with a brilliance so dumbfoundingly perfect that even Lawrence Durrell himself could not have fitted it into the appropriate brackets of English prose. It was the beginning of Holy Week, and townsfolk on the island of Corfu were giddy with romance, white linen clothing, and the river of tourist Euros flowing steadily into their pockets.

My companion and I strolled leisurely down the “Liston” which is that island’s version of the Rue de Rivoli… a sort of promenade for the beautiful… and the would-be.

We stopped at a café, and settled in for the duration of the days events. I gave my final, and half-hearted attempt at ordering something latte-esque. The waiter was confused. I looked across the table at my companion, and gave a shrug of defeat. Fuck it.

“A cappuccino” I waved at the waiter with a sigh.

“Me AFRO GALO” my friend called, suddenly, and beamed triumphantly.

“Me WHAT?” I asked, annoyed. I knew the words “me” (with) and “galo” (milk) but this “afro” thing confused me.

“I GOT IT!!!” He beamed with pride.

“What????”

“With FROTHED milk!” He nearly shouted. A German family at the next table glanced nervously towards us… ostensibly concerned that this shouting Greek man might begin slapping me soon.

A smile cracked across my face.

“Frothed….” I mused for a moment, “you asshole… you’re GREEK, why didn’t you TELL ME HOW TO SAY THAT?????????”

The German family found a different table, across the promenade from us.

The waiter brought my latte.

I smiled.

It was exquisite.

 

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