by Colin McIntosh
In a study published recently and widely reported in the media, researchers from Harvard University School of Public Health found that people who drink a moderate amount of coffee per day are less likely to die from a range of diseases. Good news for coffee drinkers, who make up an ever-increasing proportion of society.
Seattle, which likes to consider itself the home of coffee, is partly responsible for this growth in coffee drinking around the world, being the birthplace of the Starbucks chain. This is the source of much of the new vocabulary around coffee drinking, which you will now find in the Cambridge English Dictionary. Most of this vocabulary comes originally from Italian, but filtered through the Seattle approach, which involves making you stay on the premises as long as possible. Central to the whole operation is the barista (the person who makes the coffee, an Italian word from bar, meaning a coffee shop). Bring your laptop, settle down, and spend the morning sipping. As well as the traditional cappuccino (which has grown to double or triple the size of the Italian original), on offer we have lattes (even bigger and milkier than a cappuccino), macchiatos (with less milk than a cappuccino, and served in a smaller cup), americanos (with added water to make it less strong) and chais (not actually a coffee, but a tea drink originally from India with milk, sugar, and spices). Variations include decaf (decaffeinated) and skinny (with low-fat milk). If you’re in a hurry, ask for it to go (served for you to drink somewhere else, usually in a paper cup):
Two skinny decaf lattes to go, please!
In Italy, the real home of coffee, a visit to a coffee shop is not usually a leisurely experience, and the staple is the espresso. Although espresso has nothing to do with express in the sense of fast (it means “expressed”, referring to the way that water is forced through the ground coffee under pressure), it is drunk, usually standing up at the counter, in 30 seconds flat. The cappuccino began here as a breakfast drink, not to be drunk after eleven o’clock, and never after a meal. A latte (not latté!) is just a glass of milk. (The English word comes from caffè latte, a home-prepared coffee with milk.) And americano began as a tongue-in-cheek shorthand for coffee the way American tourists liked it: weaker and longer, i.e. not proper coffee at all. So, even though the words look Italian, something is lost in the translation to their new context.
The Harvard study notes that any type of coffee (in moderation) has a beneficial effect, even decaf and instant. Maybe it doesn’t matter, then, whether you drink Seattle-style or alla milanese.