There is a lot of talk about (Australian) values right now. Wouldn’t it be nice if it was about coffee values? I think we would have a much better conversation and find something everyone agrees on, while sharing a beautiful coffee and enjoying ourselves.
Making and sharing coffee is part of cherishing your people and bonding with your community. As a migrant, I think a lot about the meaning and value of this, more than I ever did back in Italy. Coffee makes me remember what’s important in life. Coffee links all the precious senses and memories of my life, moments that take me back to my home town and back again to Melbourne, to my family and community.
If I pause a moment, I can bring to mind the little local bar in my hometown Floridia in the province of Siracusa, and that sensory rush you get when you open the door.
You’re immediately plunged in the aroma of the caffetteria: the rush, people shouting
and smiling toward one another, and the gratitude you feel when you go to the cashier and someone has already paid for your coffee, putting a great big smile on your face as you walk out the door.
Hours may have passed you by as you talk away; you don’t remember what you talked about in that time but it doesn’t matter: Il dolce far niente.
From the moment you woke up, all the steps in the day were linked with a smile, with a coffee. Your aunties and your cousins would come in with all their stresses and they’d relax and gossip.
That’s the way coffee is promoted in the Italian community. From my grandmother with the caffetteria to the local bar, it’s about happiness and relaxing.
When it comes to that morning coffee, the regulars always want the same things. Of course, that’s something people do everywhere, it’s not an especially Italian thing. When the barista wants to be charismatic with you and they want you to love them, that’s really Italian – the ruffiano way.
If you’re looking for an English definition of ‘ruffiano’, you’ll probably get ‘sucking up to someone’, but that misses the point. Yes, you’re purchasing something but there’s a genuine connection in that exchange. You can understand ruffiano by what’s it’s not. If you get attitude or indifference, that doesn’t make your day or keep you coming back!
Back in my hometown, you pop into the local bar every single day so they know exactly what you want. ‘Mr Buccheri!’ they would call out. ‘Welcome today! Here is your coffee.’
When I was just a kid, having a coffee made me feel like an adult! It made my day.
Every espresso you take in Italy reflects the colours, ancient landscapes, heat and intensity of my homeland. The dark colour of the cream reflects the colour of the soils where we grow mandarins, lemons and oranges: fruits the whole world loves. That is the perfume of our land, the scent of the white jasmine. Every espresso brings you the same power and intensity.
In Sicily and across Italy, people drink well, but there’s very little money. People live for these few little things: the intensity of their coffee is life distilled into small daily moments. It’s human relationships themselves, so intense: life is an espresso.
It’s very difficult to recreate those exact experiences. In a way, I wouldn’t want to, they belong to their own place.
So how do we, migrants and Australian born, make our steps and link them with a smile?
When you look around, everywhere, we are recreating our own meaning and value out of living in the moment. Around the caffettiera – or the teapot, this is what connects you to your family traditions, the steaming tea, the smiles over the teacup, the slower pace.
Every time someone pulls away from the computer, they get a smile on their face. They’re taking a moment, getting their coffee. That’s the happiness right there. You can do it with the kids, your friends, with anyone on a Sunday. Go camping, have a picnic, and pack the caffettiera with you.
In Australia we concern ourselves about doing coffee ‘correctly’ and doing coffee ‘ethically’. The experience of migration taught me to see these through the lens of bonding and cherishing life and each other through creating and drinking coffee. Otherwise, they’re empty gestures.
The coffee machine is a symbol of relaxing. It’s a break. That’s something we should always remember: work hard and work well – yes – but take that time to enjoy the moment.