Travel: Espresso dreams & legendary croissants

A tasty combo in a harbor in Vlore, Albania

By Bob Berwyn

SUMMIT COUNTY — I’ve been drinking way too much coffee lately, just one of the perils of running a full-time one-man journalism/blogging shop. Plus I have enablers — loving relatives — who keep sending stashes of primo French dark roasts.

But instead of fighting it, I’ve decided to go with the flow. This is how I like my coffee:

Nero, come la notte; caldo, come l’inferno; forte, come Il diavolo, et dolce, come l’amore.

I don’t have an espresso maker but I’m thinking about buying one soon. Alternately, if there are any espresso-maker companies out there that would like a prime sponsorship spot with Summit Voice, contact us. It can be arranged.

In the meantime, I have to make do with memories of my most recent European foray, when Leigh and I traveled down the Italian boot, then via ferry to Greece and Albania, then back again.

In the first few days, I took the coffee for granted, but as the trip started to wind down, I realized that would be a while before I’d have coffee this good again, so I took note of each cup, like this breakfast stop in a harbor bar in Vlore, Albania, where I made the following entry in my travel journal:

“Coffee, espresso and cappuccinos are done well all around the Mediterranean and the Balkans, so it was no surprise to get a delicious cup in a spiffy coffee shop in the middle of the slightly seedy harbor district in Vlore.

Not seedy as in dangerous – in fact all of Albania felt as safe as could be – but seedy in the sense of scamming taxi drivers and vendors selling tickets for phantom boats at inflated prices.

Our slight brush with this vibe came as we carried our backpacks toward customs. A guy in an official-looking bright orange vest steered us toward the maze and then gestured to us that we should put our packs down on a bench while the border guards examined our passports.

He seemed to be suggesting that he would guard them for us while we dealt with the formalities, kind of like those guys on some tropical beaches who offer to watch your stuff while you swim, with the implication that they’ll steal it if you don’t hire them. Our man in Albania wanted a couple of Euro for his troubles.

Vlore is definitely a crossroads for Southeastern Europe. Our Italian-style cappuccino and croissant represented that intermingling of cultures. As a certified coffee freak, I love a country where most cafes offer both Italian-style espresso-based drinks and thick-brewed Turkish coffee.

Legend has it the famed pastry was invented by a baker in Budapest to commemorate a victory over Ottoman invaders — thus the crescent shape. Food historians say they can conclusively disprove this story based on painstaking research of historic recipes, but it’s a fun tale nonetheless.

The dark, chocolate-filled croissants in Vlore didn’t have that classic crescent shape that symbolizes the near-eastern Orient (think Turkish flag), but they were so good that we bought a couple of extras to go for the long ferry ride, munching them on deck as we watched the forested mountains of Albania’s western shoreline fade into the hazy ocean mists.

And the translation, not that it’s needed: Espresso should be black as night, hot as hell, strong as the devil and sweet as love!


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