Coffee in Venice
In the offseason, Venetians get some reprieve from the estimated 20 million tourists the city gets every year—overwhelming for a city of around 55,000.
Some might consider it the price of getting to live in Venice: the city needs to be shared. But in early January, locals have the luxury of moving without being physically displaced by legions of day-trippers and cruise-shippers.
Offseason Venice still throngs with tourists navigating the city with one eye on some iconic landmark and the other looking out for some stuffed animal on a pole indicating a tour guide. But they don’t block the streets and campos. The venerated-to-the-point-of-sacred Italian breakfast protocol of cappuccino and cornetto (the term “brioche” also works, never say “croissant” east of Monaco) can also proceed unimpeded.
On a frigid Monday morning, my father and I walk through the Piazza San Marco in search of a warm cup of coffee before entering the Doge’s Palace. This early, the sun’s been up for half an hour and there are few with whom to share the Piazza beyond deliverymen and a peculiar group of men surrounded by scores of pigeons. From the way they walk purposefully at us idling in the Piazza, their business model must be to approach tourists and thrust pigeon-feed into their hands, compelling them to pay for an unhygienic photo opportunity.
We don’t stick around to see if these men sic pigeons on noncompliant tourists but instead walk east along the lagoon, until we duck into a narrow alley looking for caffeine. A warmly-lit room with glass windows and espresso machines behind a single L-shaped bar—no chairs or tables—pulls us in. The space is tiny, perhaps enough room for ten skinnier people to fit comfortably.
The proper coffee stop takes between three and five minutes, enough time to order, down your drink, eat a cornetto (optional), and kibitz with the barista before departing. The men and women around us in business suits or with dogs on leash know the drill. We, the tourists, need hand-holding.
From the time we enter until the time we leave, we clock no more than seven minutes. It’s enough for the maneuvers that go into making cappuccinos. Seven minutes gets you flaky, cream-filled cornettos with a berry on top, and a series of mangled English-Italian interchanges. Fortunately, gibberish and pitiful smiles are okay in January. In July, they might have shown us the door.
Cups empty, plates containing little more than crumbs, we pay up and head back out in time to join our fellow foreigners at the Doge’s Palace.
Photo by: David Schiersner