I mournfully gave up coffee many years ago, when it became clear that my stomach just could not handle it. In switching to black tea I abandoned not only one of my favorite foods but also one of my favorite past-times. Because drinking coffee is an act not only of consumption but also of culture, community, and – due to my extremely sensitive nervous system – hypercaffeination.

When I visited Elsewhere, though, I realized that I could not possibly leave without partaking of the ubiquitous espresso-drinking ritual. This was quite risky, considering the state of Elsewhere’s bathrooms. But one quiet morning towards the end of my trip, I took the plunge. I headed over to an unmarked home restaurant at the top of a nondescript apartment building, parked myself at the deck bar overlooking the city and the sea, and ordered a cup of “cafe en el estilo Elsewhere-ano,” because at that point I didn’t realize it was plain old espresso everyone was drinking.

I then proceeded to spend the next two hours drinking my teeny coffee, because savoring it and the view at the same time was about as perfect an experience as you can get. I also figured that would give my digestive system time to alert me to an impending disaster before I had ingested all of the toxins. As it turned out, my body reacted to espresso quite well: I became high as a kite in the smoothest way possible, and without any intestinal distress. My guess is that my only real problem for years and years had been gluten, and in giving it up two years ago I recovered my ability to eat all sorts of other things that I used to think set me off when in fact it was just collateral damage from gluten-induced inflammation.

Since that fateful, magical day (because coffee really is magical for someone who reacts to it like cocaine), I’ve indulged in an espresso every morning. Each time I drag out a cup for twenty minutes,  I experience a three-fold pleasure – the thrill of consuming what feels like it should be an illicit substance, the delight of tasting something so delicious that I thought was lost to me, and the joy of partaking in a slow, Old-World ritual that connects me culturally to two places I love – Elsewhere, where I picked up the habit, and Italy, where it was born.

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