Espresso, a little bit of steamed milk, and that perfect thick layer of rich and creamy foam.
The first espresso-based beverage I remember drinking 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. It had a big front porch for the days you just couldn't stay inside, and provided me with my first latte, full of sugar and flavor with a hint of independence and deep thoughts.
My first cappuccino was handed to me by a barista in Italy, where I also got my first introduction to the delightful experience of stove top espresso full of milk, paired with bread from the corner bakery and a think layer of Nutella -- my first taste of Nutella. This memory lane includes afternoon siestas in the foot of that beautiful geographical boot, followed by chilled afternoon espresso -- strong and black and sweet. The Southern Italian cousin of sweet tea.
The first time I made my own cappuccino 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 the constraints of perceived expectations -- a classic case of quarter-life crisis (is that still a thing?). I still feel a deep connection to the hum of an espresso machine, the caramel of the crema, and the hiss of steam in a stainless steel pitcher of milk. I learned to make foam not just bubbles, and to recognize the sound of milk steamed to just the right temperature.
Italy, London, Israel, Texas -- forget Coca Cola, cappuccino 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, stories shared. The shh-shh of pages turning and no one talking, and the warmth of the person next to you.