Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Coffee Milkshake in a Traditional Café

 Well, I've just gotten back to the office after the nationwide August ferie (vacation), and it's still very hot in Florence even though it is September.  This morning for the time-honored Italian pausa caffè (coffee break), photographer Elke and I decided to try a place we'd never been.  Located behind the office, Vivoli is famous the world over for its homemade gelato.
 "Are you sure Vivoli serves coffee?"  I asked.  

"Natalia (a Vista intern) says she has breakfast here every day," replied Elke.  Once inside, for the very first time, I looked past the containers of signature Vivoli ice cream

 to discover an old-time traditional Italian café.   Best of all, there were no waiters in smart jackets lurking around--I was ecstatic to find that I could order a coffee at the counter, bring it over, sit down and stay as long as I like and not be charged an exorbitant fee.  Have breakfast, meet with friends, do an interview, read the paper, daydream, write in my journal...all for the price of a coffee.  And also in the company of murals by Falai, a disciple of Annigoni.

I stepped up to the counter, and in view of the still-hot weather, 
asked for ice coffee. Long-time Vivoli employee, Tamara Galanti, 
suggested I try their caffè crema (it is an Italian idiosyncrasy
that each café and restaurant lists a specialty that is found 
no where else).  Caffè crema?  It sounded appealing--so
I ordered it out of curiosity.  Tamara assured me that it was cool, 
coffee-ey and refreshing. I watched her place hot espresso coffee,
milk, ice cubes and a smidgen of sugar into a blender to create....
a coffee milk shake aka caffè crema.  No fake flavoring or additives.

Voilà!  Italians certainly also care about presentation.  Cool and smooth, it lived up to promise.

Meanwhile, Elke, who is German, didn't want to know about cold coffee for breakfast.  In her best Italian, she very confidently ordered a macchiato, accompanied by a budino di riso (a Florentine rice pudding pastry).
I shared some advice that an Italian friend, Daniele, gave me years ago.  "Always order espresso in a glass--it's tastes better (that I am tempted to give credence to) and is more hygienic,"  he told me (???).   Daniele (a soccer umpire in his free time) was so positive about what he said, that I became a believer, ordering my shot of Italian coffee in a glass every since. The Vivoli caffè macchiato came topped with steamed, frothy milk that the powers behind multinational coffee chains would sell their first-born to be able to imitate. 
But what caught my eye was the budino di riso, rice pudding pastry, which, at first glance, was unlike the out-of-the-same-mold boring version available in most Florentine coffee bars.

Silvana Vivoli, daughter and granddaughter of the original owners, stepped forward to explain,

"We make all the gelato and pastries served on the premises, and still use my grandmother's recipe for the budino di riso.  She used to put milk, butter and rice to heat over a low flame and would forget that it was cooking.  It would become soft that we could eat it with a spoon--which we still do.  Then, eggs and pastry cream are added, and the cooled rice custard is transferred to individual, homemade pastry shells."

Silvana is the one in viola shirt, the color of the local Fiorentina soccer team;  Tamara is next to her.
Silvana also revealed that her mother Simonetta originally lived across the way from Vivoli, which is located in the Santa Croce neighborhood.  One day Simonetta was locked out of her apartment, came to Vivoli to wait for her mother, and thus met her future husband, Piero, shortly thereafter becoming part of the Vivoli clan.
Simonetta is still found at the Vivoli cash register--"where else would I be?," she says.

Like everything authentic in Florence, every action--even having breakfast-- reveals a story
 embedded in layers of history.  And as always, something unexpected--like a coffee milkshake, christened caffè crema, in a Florentine café.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder Italian people drink espresso coffee also in the summer or they also drink smoothies, milkshakes, juices etc
    Or do they create a cold espresso somehow?