Drowned in caffè


It takes me a long time to leave the house. Keys, phone, purse, sunglasses are never where I left them and then a sort of departure tick means I need to do something just before I go out the door; round-up the shoes littering the hall, wipe the kitchen table, push the chairs in properly even though the rest of the house is chaos. The door needs to close before I realise I’ve forgotten something, usually the knotted bag of rubbish ready to go and weeping onto the kitchen counter. As I return to collect the rubbish I notice the dead flowers that really should be taken out too, which involves unknotting the bag. As I pick impatiently at the knot I decide the vase the flowers were in needs washing with bleach because it reeks, and so it goes on. When I finally slam the front door behind me, sending a shiver up and down the lift shaft, my landlord has requested I fuss with two keys one of which requires six clunking turns. It takes me a long time to leave the house. Unless we have run out of coffee.

Having flung on clothes and scooped-up things and Luca, we were out the door and blinking in the surprising brightness of Via Galvani in record time. We walked as we do every morning past the pet shop, the canestro, the tabac, the bank and then into Barberini, the bar I have visited most days for the last nine years. Despite familiarity I will always be a straniera, a foreigner, a term I don’t mind anymore, after all, I am. Luca however, is not, he has grown up here, this is his bar. He pummels his fists on the front of the glass counter for a maritozzo, a sticky, yeasted bun and then pummels on my leg so I lift him up on to the lip that runs around the sickle shaped bar. I have barely touched the 10 centesimi coin and the receipt on the counter and Paolo puts a cappuccino in front of me, it’s frothed milk schiuma thick and resting in promising folds. Luca is given an espresso cup of the same creamy folds which he eats with a teaspoon. Here it is, one of the best moments of the day and one of the things I love most about living in Italy; standing at the bar in a Bar with a coffee before me. I drink in the moment and the contents of the cup quickly while Luca offers the man next to us a bit of half- chewed bun. Caffeine seeps into my system. Four others; a young woman, two young men who’ve clearly been up all night and a tall man who looks like Christopher Lee are all deep in breakfast contemplation at different points around the bar, together but alone. Luca disturbs the calm with a chorus of goodbye and ciao which everyone, even almost Christopher Lee, reciprocates. Then it’s over and we are back on the street blinking in the sun and it is only 8 am, on Sunday.


Needless to say several more espressos followed, the last of which which was made at home after lunch in my well-seasoned, well-loved Moka Pot. However instead of drinking it, I tipped it over a spoonful of fior di latte gelato for something Italians call affogato al caffè or drowned in coffee, a state I am familiar with. The effect of pale and dark, of hot meeting cold, of sweet and lactic meeting a full, tannic espresso is fantastic and one of my favorite ways to end a meal. Time is of the essence, you can’t waste time taking pictures or other such nonsense, you need to plunge your spoon in quick so as to appreciate the contrast between hot and cold and the still distinct flavors before the cream melts into the dark liquid and you are left with a toffee coloured inch to be drunk from the glass.


By the way, I am now on Instagram, where you can see more repetitive overhead pictures of my lunch and a filtered view of life in Testaccio – R



Filed under caffè, Eating In Testaccio, gelato, icecream

65 responses to “Drowned in caffè

  1. Affogato is a wonderful thing. Lovely words to go with it, as always!

  2. Beautiful writing! That first bit about running out the door with 5 billion other things to do at the same time hit close to home though. You’re not alone! 🙂

    • rachel

      Happy not to be alone with my obsessive tick (which reached a pinnacle yesterday as I returned twice, the second time for my child) and thank you v much – R

  3. Thanks Rachel – it was a toss up between Barberini & Tram Depot for our coffee fix on our next visit to Rome. Barberini it is!

    • rachel

      You could of could do both, after all they are seconds apart, I suggest double breakfast and then later double aperitivo…..Rx

  4. Oh, I’m going to have to get on Instagram to follow your food life, if only vicariously. Lovely post. Italian coffee is the BEST. Oh, and just in case you thought it might be easier to leave the house without a Young Person in tow…. it doesn’t get any better. By the time the Young Person leaves home, your brains may be addled. Mine were.

    • rachel

      I think my brain is already addled…..so glad to be in such good departure tick company…..yes please follow me and then i can follow you xox

  5. I just followed you on IG. You have a lovely feed. And a great blog, but that I already knew. This piece of writing was a well spent study break for me. Thank you.

    • rachel

      I am a study break, knowing ho precious they are, I love that. Thank you and thank you, and glad to have you here Rx

  6. Following you on Instagram – will try not to stalk! Gorgeous photos there…

  7. laura

    You always strike a chord … or two … or three …
    Well-played. Thank you.

  8. Maybe it’s the mind of a woman. We just don’t “walk” out the door. Ever. It’s like you are leaving to catch a plane for 5 days every time. cheers… wendy

  9. Lauren

    There is always something, a missing shoe or forgotten toy that absolutely needs to come! But I agree when there is no coffee in the house the exit is always a lot quicker.

  10. Hilary

    always happy to see overhead shots of your lunch (and happy to see there is already a backlog to gaze at!!) xh

  11. I am the same. ….I can’t understand why all of those household tasks suddenly become urgent when I am running out the door, carrying 3 bags and late for something! Lovely words, as always.

  12. Perfect Rachel! I can smell the coffee as you describe it. I have a John Lewis espresso pot modelled on the Domo in Florence. Chaio!

    • rachel

      i think I would like a duomo pot too…Charles I really think you need a Rome visit for sights and caffè….there will be more about caffè in the book too, best Rx

  13. Such a beautiful piece of writing Rachel, so evocative.

  14. Barbara

    Memories, sigh!

  15. Hi Rach, One of the highlights of my Roman visit last year (!) was meeting up with you and Luca at Barberini, your bar. It was a 45 minute bus ride from my northern locale to Via Marmorata, an adventure in itself. And a pleasure to savor, however briefly, your neighborhood. And company!

    No doubt you are closing in on the manuscript. I know that it is going to be an extraordinary and beautiful book, lauded and well-received on both sides of the pond! On my end, the final galleys have been proofed and the book is off to the printers, slated for June 17 release.

    I am happy that we have a place in Nashville (Legato Gelato) that serves luscious authentic affogatos. Sometimes I’ll indulge in one, instead of dinner!

    • rachel

      I remember it all too well…and then the lunch at Cesare, happy times. It is going, I can’t really talk about it yet, so much to do and such a demanding little boy,,,,a lll good though. I cannot cannot wait to have a copy of yours, cannot wait, lots of love RX

  16. Betta

    loved this! one of your best posts, rach 🙂

  17. By the way, this is fantastic, the froth ‘resting in promising folds’ and the lovely feeling you conjure of a day stretched out before you. I could taste the promise of 8am. Beautiful. xx

  18. What a wonderful and evocative post. Also, you have nailed it with the looks of a good cappuccino – the ‘resting in promising folds’! There is nothing worse than a cappuccino that arrives on the bar speckled with little craters where poor froth has already started to disintegrate!

    • rachel

      I had a terrible one (not barbarian) yesterday, it was fizzy and full of holes, like weak soap suds,,,,so upsetting. Off for a good one now. Hope all is well, Rxx

      • That sounds horrible (and pretty close to most of the coffee I have been having this side of the alps in recent weeks). All good here – off to Italy this weekend (sadly not to Rome though) so looking forward to good food, wine and coffee! Hope all is well at your end as well and the book is progressing!

  19. Jesse makes fun of me for doing so –being kind of ready to head out, but then being stopped by little details like the crumbs on the table, the floor that needs quickly swept, the switch of the shower on, a packet of tissues to pick up, a change of scarf…
    I have never had the beautiful habit of heading to the bar for a cappuccino, mainly because I started to love coffee pretty much when I was already at University, and soon after, I flew the country. But oh, do I regret not having indulged in that ritual a bit more!
    I picked up the caffeine love though, and pretty fast. Our moka pot should serve 10, but barely cuts if for the two of us. And I have access to ice cream now, and to an espresso machine, all day long. Sometimes I resist, sometimes I don’t want to. The flavour of affogato is really one of the best things to close a meal.

    • rachel

      He, we have the same vast Moka too, it feel as if it should feed and army and then……..Again I am glad to be I good departure tick company, see you soon, soon, soon. Rxx

  20. Love affogato and the fact that you are on IG now, off to look for you!

  21. One of my all time favourite desserts…

  22. I love being transported to your Testaccio. Also love affogato.

  23. We share the departure tick… Please know that I will always look forward to the stories you share and the overhead pictures you take of your lunch.

  24. Love the reading of “the lip of the sickle shaped bar” as much as the thought of downing an affogato al caffè. Have one for me.

  25. Absolutely the perfect dessert, I’m a recent and terribly enthusiastic convert! However, I commit the terrible sin of using decaf, I’m sure the vast majority of Italians would not approve.

    • rachel

      It is and glad to hear about your conversion…..and as for the decaf, it still provides the hot and dark and slightly bitter – all good I say x

  26. Love, love, love everything about this. I could picture it so clearly, your pre-8a coffee excursion. I sadly don’t have anything similar here in Casa (though there’s a place up the street that supposedly opens early-ish) but I drown myself in coffee at home on a regular, if not daily, basis. I remember the first time I had an affogato — I fell in love immediately. So good. Like your writing.

    • rachel

      ……..I am glad not to be the only one drowning most days (we share the mothers need I think). Always so happy to have you here xo

  27. Mary

    Rachel, this is just a general reply. I read a LOT of food blogs (never commenting, but always reading and learning) and I think I came to yours through one of those links. I just spent two full work days (when I should have been working) caching up from day one to “All, none, some” and to the middle of 2013. All I can say is boy, you really hit a nerve with that one. “Some” is my new guiding word, a new mantra. So glad you have come so far from that. But those three words will continue to resonate and I will try to use them to guide, moderate and modulate. That was one to really think about. In addition to wishing I could have the time to make all the beautiful things you do, live as you do, as someone from Italian heritage….those dishes, your life.. speak to me. Thank you.

    • rachel

      Hi Mary and thank you so much for taking the time to write, It is one of the most heartening things to hear people enjoy reading and relate to what can feel like a long solitary monologue. It is especially nice as you have italian roots and probably have an instinctive level of understanding I will never have regards the food and culture. Again thank you for taking the time to comment, all best R

  28. Good writing. Really nice. At that hour of the morning on a Sunday, before caffeine has taken hold, I’m sure every bar has its own pale, lofty, Christopher Lee lookalike.

  29. Steve

    This post reminded me of working in a Hotel kitchen in South Wales in the 1980’s. All the waiting staff were Italian. I turned up with an awful hangover, and the Italians said they had a good cure, they “creamed” some butter and sugar together in a cup, then added black coffee.

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