I'm in Italy for four days, strictly working you understand, and espresso here is just that: fast. In you go in the morning before work for a cappuccino--yes, you can have one then (usually abbreviated to "cappuccio"), but it ain't nothing like as big as what we usually get, let alone a latte, which is a very rare order and often for when you're not feeling well. You stir it, have a look at the paper, maybe have a cornetto--a croissant, but made with a more brioche-like dough--and you go to the office.

Maybe, if you have time between morning appointments, you go in for another, but by that time it would be maybe a macchiato, "stained" with milk foam, cappuccino being the breakfast drink. Then, after lunch, a very quick espresso or macchiato. Same with teatime pause in the late afternoon to get to the end of the working day, which is 6 or 7. Office hours are strict (I write from one now).

Several eternal Italian concepts to note: These breaks are fast, yes, but always sociable. You chat with the barista, who is often an owner--mom and pops still flourish here, and chains haven't taken over, partly as a result of small-business protectionist laws that might hobble the economy but thank G d continue to make village and even city live the festive joy it usually is here. There's often a paper on a table, and you give it a glance. But unlike Terrence's Argentinian experience, I so far haven't seen anyone pull out a laptop in a caffe (they put in the extra "f" here). That would be downright unsociable.

But, in what could be a worrying or an encouraging sign (like Terrence, I love working in cafes, and his note about laptop theft has me worried, as so far I don't worry about leaving a laptop unattended in America, perhaps foolishly), at this morning's caffe stop I saw a high table covered in red laminate with the Illy logo. There were only papers on it and, yes, ashtrays (laws are less strict than office hours, apparently). But no work reports, no one silent and purposeful, absolutely not a laptop screen. As in Argentina, home of course of a very large Italian population, coffee is still for relaxation--and for connection.

The One-Hour Cup of Coffee
By Terrence Henry