One thing I dig about traveling is being surrounded by a different language. I like to wonder about how the different sounds and rhythms of the words we speak (and read) define our sensibilities, personalities and ideas about who we are and how we want to be.
Catalan and Castilian Spanish are the official languages in Catalonia where Barcelona is the capital city. Newspapers, books, television channels, road signs and other public signs are in Catalan and Spanish. Many Barcelonins switch easily between the two. And both are on most menus, often hanging out alongside a third language: English…language of tourism.
Catalan and Castilian Spanish have struggled for dominance and the right to define Catalonia’s identity for a long, long time. Politics, religion and snobbery have provoked power struggles that resulted in Catalan being banned completely twice.
In Barcelona, a young barista said he’d prefer that we speak English rather than Spanish with him since he was Catalan. And then he said something kinda feisty about Spain and Spanish. Then he and my husband talked about video games while I perused the pastry case. Video Game: the fourth language.
Pointing at pastries with excitement and appreciation: fifth language.
I respect Catalonia’s tumultuous and tongue-tied past. But I had to go with the language I was most likely to speak half decently and the one that is predominantly spoken here. Thankfully, most Barcelonins I met were patient while I valiantly attempted to resuscitate some mummified high school Spanish.
But let’s get back to where we started. Listening to cafe chatter in a foreign language is kinda musical and interesting. The people at the next table might be having an incredibly boring conversation. But I hear only the stray words friendly enough to stick their heads out the window and bark at me.
Actually having to speak that new language is humbling and hilarious. So I was amped when, jet-lagged and craving coffee, I ordered our first breakfast in Barcelona without resorting to gestures, grunts, blank stares and ¿Habla inglés…por favor?
Hola…queremos dos cortados, por favor.
A cortado is a shot of strong espresso cut with steamed milk often taken with a little sinful splash of sugar. Cortar, the root word of cortado, means to cut so there you are. Easy to remember.
In the afternoon it’s common to stop at a cafe for a quick cortado accompanied by a small cookie or pastry and a few minutes in the Mediterranean sun. It’s a brief break in the day. And now that I’ve experienced the afternoon cortado I prefer the sensibility that goes along with it.
I’ve converted to cortados!
I brought back a pair of perfectly cortado-worthy, blue and white trimmed cups and saucers from VinÇon Barcelona (pictured above) which I now serve cortados in every morning. And then I hand wash them and remind myself to be chill if I ever break one.
I also collected sugar packets from cafes all over Barcelona. I’ll use them and think about my time there and language and how food is a language too.
My coffee ritual is altered since I’ve been to Barcelona. There’s a whole new series of little actions I do every morning.
Cortados and the idea of taking a few minutes to enjoy coffee from a tiny, pretty, proper, non-disposable cup took hold in me and is now part of my life. And that reflects an attitude about how I choose to enjoy my time and coffee. I think that’s interesting.
Dos Cortados – espresso milk sugar
A strong shot of espresso cut with steamed milk often taken with a little sugar, some sunshine and a small pastry.
- two 2 ounce shots of espresso
- 3.5 – 4 ounces of lowfat milk
- two pretty and preferably not disposable cups,*cute saucers: optional
- Steam the milk *If you don’t have a steamer then heat the milk in a small saucepan over medium heat while whisking gently and occassionally until steam wafts from the milk. Don’t create too much froth with your whisking…just generate a few bubbles and keep the milk moving a bit so it won’t scald. Approximately 1-2 minutes.
- Pour two ounces of espresso into each cup.
- Top each espresso shot with 1 – 2 ounces of warm steamed milk.
- Add sugar to taste.
- Enjoy…preferably with a small pastry and a few minutes to take a break or begin the day!
Yield: dos cortados or two servings
Prep: 1 minute
Cook: 2 minute(s)