Sunday, February 27, 2011

Chain Coffee Shops, Oh No!

The CHAIN is hitting Italy. They are quickly replacing many kinds of shops, like lingerie and teen clothing stores, and now is even replacing coffee and gelato shops that once were in the hands of only small, family-run businesses.

Italy was known for its great hole-in-the-wall shops with character and good quality eats and drinks. In every shop or cafè in every town, you never knew exactly what you would get but you were always pleasantly surprised with what you found, in quality and taste.

In this post I want to talk about how coffee is being taken over by Caffé Dersut chain versions of a slightly Starbucks-esque style shop. The famous Veneto brand of coffee is not just sponsoring the coffee of its faithful Italian bar owners, but it also is encouraging them to open shops that all look the same, from Padua to Agordo and maybe even Milano. (I have personally seen the Paduan and Agordino versions.) The coffee may be good, but I am worried about the consequences: coffee shops becoming uniform across the bel paese.

The shops have fake hand-written signage announcing all the wonderful versions of coffees and "frappucino-style" coffee cocktails you can drink there. (Hence the Starbucks connection.) The environment is bright and friendly. It looks good, if you don't think about how it's all the SAME.

I wanted to leave that stuff behind in America, but after a decade, it's caught up with me.

Starbucks never was able to break into the Italian coffee market by opening up its own stores, but Caffè Dersut is copying the US company's style and successful marketing graphics and aesthetics.

Will this just be a fad or is Italy on the path to become a land of coffee chain shops, too?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Home Owner's Delight

Yesterday marked one year from the date of the rogito and officially buying our house. F and I are going to celebrate tonight.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chocolate Festival in Padua


Padua's hosting Day 2 of its chocolate festival, Cioccolando. Come join the fun in downtown Padua. You missed yesterday's parade, but there's still fun to be had in and around Palazzo Moroni. Let your eyes delight and mouth savor chocolate's marvels. There is also other kinds of entertainment going on such as clowns, bands, dancers, baton twirlers and street performers of all kinds.

Featured chocolate treats:

ciocco-latini, praline e cioccolatini in tantissimi gusti diversi
ciocco-calda, la gustosa cioccolata calda
ciocco-frutta, gustose fragole intinte nel cioccolato fuso
ciocco-pasta, la pasta fatta in casa aromatizzata al cacao
ciocco-yogurt alla stracciatella e morettino
ciocco-crêpes con ripieno alla crema di cacao
dolce salame di cioccolato

Is your mouth salivating yet?

Proceeds will go to the hospital's Pediatric Department.

For more information, go to
Photo credit, Flickr's EuroMagic.

Ciao e buon cioccolato!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Unfinished Cork Project

Shortly after throwing away a bag full of supposedly useless wine corks, I received a gift in the mail: a wooden frame to use to make a big cork hot plate. The idea is that you fill in the center area with all the corks you would otherwise throw away and have a unique hot plate to show for it.

That was 2 (or even 3?) years ago. I don't remember exactly. I started to collect the corks again. But in the meantime the wine industry changed gears. It stopped making wine stoppers out of cork, using a plastic substitute instead. Perhaps it was for environmental reasons, like saving the cork trees from over harvesting. Or maybe the aziende agrigole realized that there was no risk is selling a bad bottle that tasted like cork without real cork stoppers. Anyway, the fact remains that it has become virtually impossible to regularly find real cork, even in Italy.

This is a picture of the state of my cork project:

I buy wine. I live in Italy, so I often drink wine. I like a glass at dinner. But here I am with only these corks to count after all these years! I need double that to finish the plate! I even thought of asking a café or enoteca (wine shop) owner to pass on some of her stoppers to speed up the process, but then my plate would lack my own history in its completion. I want to know I actually drank those different wines featured by the corks. I also want to see the visual variety of the various brands. The enoteca owner will probably just give me dozens of corks from the same brands of tocai and merlot (popular regional choices).

The funny thing is that now a new labor protest in going on, led by the cork peelers. These people are losing their jobs because of the drop in worldwide cork sales. The country of Portugal claims part of its bad economy on the drop in this single field! Now the workers are campaigning to get the wine industry to start using the real stuff again, claiming that it is environmentally better because it's natural. But is it sustainable?

In Italy, Sardegna's the largest cork producer. I haven't seen any Sardinian cork protesters picketing during this crisis season, but they are probably suffering, too.

So is topping bottles with cork good or bad for the environment? I'm confused.

What's your opinion?

It's just such a great material: soft yet hard, light, solid yet airy, and heat-resistant, best of all.

Read and watch more about the cork scene at Time magazine and at Sughero Naturale.