Espresso, a little bit of steamed milk, and that perfect thick layer of rich and creamy foam.
The first espresso-based drink I remember was in college at Midnight Oil, a coffee house in a literal house. It was the perfect oasis on the edge of campus, full of art and light and cozy old couches. A big front porch for the days you just couldn't stay inside. My first latte, full of sugar and flavor, with a hint of independence and deep thoughts.
My first cappucino, handed to me by a barista in Italy, where I also got my first introduction to the delightful experience of stovetop espresso full of milk, paired with bread from the corner bakery and a think layer of Nutella -- also, my first Nutella. This memory lane includes afternoon siestas in the foot of that beautiful geographical boot, marked by chilled afternoon espresso -- strong and black and sweet. The Southern Italian cousin of sweet tea.
The first time I made my own cappucino I stood behind the counter of a coffee shop in a North Carolina college town, just a quick 10 minutes to the beach. Married, no kids, and itching inside percieved expectations. The hum of the espresso machine, the caramel of the crema, and the hiss of steam in the stainless steel pitcher of milk. Learning to make foam not just bubbles, and learning to recognize the sound of milk steamed to just the right temperature.
Italy, London, Israel, Texas -- forget Coca Cola, capuccino is the universal language.
The sound of people and cars and motorcycles. The smell of concrete, asphalt, cigarette smoke, salty ocean air, hot milk and toasted bread. Plucky guitars, raspy voices, low-toned pianos. Laughter, fingers on keyboards. The shh-shh of pages turning and no one talking, and the warmth of the person next to you.