Rogue Ink

August 22, 2008

About Freelancing and Caffeine: Italians Know What’s Up

Filed under: Writing — Tei @ 4:47 am
Tags: , ,

As I write this, I am cruising the wave of a triple espresso. For those of you who have never experienced this, it is basically like having a Def Leppard guitar riff directing the normally mellow tunes of your synapses. The reason I had the triple espresso is because I want to get some work done tonight, and the Italians taught me how to drink un caffè. Let us explore the virtues of espresso, because every freelancer occasionally feels the need to stay up way past a normal bedtime and crank out a few thousand words of copy.

Espresso vs. Coffee.

Here’s the difference. Espresso works. Coffee doesn’t. Allow me to expand upon that statement.

Espresso is more or less super-distilled coffee. To make coffee, you pour a lot of water through coffee grounds and that process gets the flavor of the ground-up coffee beans into the water. That’s all well and good, but espresso is when you cram as much of the coffee flavor as possible into a very, very tiny amount of water. It is the difference between a Hershey bar and a triple-cacao truffle.

Taking that metaphor and running with it like we do, you know how you could eat about five Snickers bars, not quite getting the chocolatey fix you were hoping for because the chocolate drug is spaced out too much to hit the Happy Center of your brain? Whereas if you eat the triple-cacao truffle, your eyes suddenly dilate and you begin rocking to the euphoric strains of a Swedish electronica band in your head while you start seeing the sounds manifest as colors in front of you? That is the difference between coffee and espresso.

How To Drink Espresso

I lived in Rome for a couple months in college, and I learned a few things about espresso.

First of all, never order a cappuccino unless it’s morning. Italians will mock you roundly. Milk is only for breakfast. Apparently, it is as if you are a baby in the morning and you are expected to be a full-grown man by the end of the day. Milk in the morning, strong espresso at night. If you drink milk at night, it’s basically like saying you didn’t grow up that day, you baby. Very emasculating, even if you happen to be the sort of man who has ovaries.

Secondly, if you’re in Italy, you can just order un caffe, and they will bring you espresso. Water is also for babies, and coffee, as we have established, is water and espresso. If you’re in the U.S., order a double shot. Single shots are for wussies. If you are completely insane like me, order a triple shot. You’ll be catatonic, but it’ll be worth it.

Thirdly, sugar is fantastic and should be used liberally. Apparently, though water and milk are for babies, sugar is for manly men. Everyone I saw doctoring their drink in Italy put TONS of sugar in their espresso. The ratio is about one part sugar to two parts espresso. Not an exaggeration. The level of drink in the cup should rise noticeably. Now you are hopped up on espresso drug and sugar drug. Win-win.

Fourthly, drink it fast. Espresso does not get tastier as it cools by a long shot. It has a very short period of time in which it is worth drinking, and that is about thirty seconds after you’ve stirred in your sugar. Toss it back like a shot. Espresso cools fast – you won’t burn yourself. You may put yourself into a coma, but you will not burn yourself. Take comfort in that fact.

Fifthly, and I did not learn this trick from the Italians, get thyself a lemon wedge. Remember how I just said that espresso has a short lifespan of deliciousness? You can actually taste that lifespan dwindling IN YOUR MOUTH unless you get a lemon wedge and eliminate it before it can go stale on you. If you don’t get some other flavor going on the tongue, you will quite literally TASTE the espresso DIE in your MOUTH. I hardly feel this needs saying, but that is bad for you and your taste buds, as well as your espresso-compromised sanity.

What To Do With an Espresso High

Quickly turn your attention to whatever you need your focus to be on for the next few hours. For some reason, espresso has the amazing ability to make you focus very, very hard on one single thing, but you cannot shift what that single thing is midway through your espresso high. So if you down a triple shot and get distracted by a window display of fresh fruit, I am sorry to say that your mind will be incredibly fixated on cantaloupes for the next few hours. Which is fine if you have some sort of philosophy about the cantaloupe that must be examined, but not cool if you intended to use those hours to write about, let’s say, media relations. Or monkeys. Or whatever.

So focus immediately on whatever it is you wanted to be focused on. Trust me, you will not be able to tear yourself away. Choose wisely.

Drink a TON of water. Otherwise your brain will fry and you will get jittery and twitchy and your mind will explode from the sheer force of wanting to express the culmination of its deep contemplation but your fingers will be too twitchy to write it down and you will go insane. That is all I have to say about that.

Write like a fiend. Your head will be going way faster than your hand, so I highly recommend a computer over freehand unless you have a shorthand that is actually legible. I personally do not, and I have nearly gone insane trying to keep up with my thoughts on paper. Computers, baby. Wave of the future.

If at all possible, come down from your espresso high before you turn in the assignment. Now, I’m aware that if you need the espresso late at night, you’re probably on a deadline and don’t have time to wait to turn it in. I get that. But if you can, you should, because often the espresso high makes you unaware of silly editorial mistakes like using the same verb three times in one paragraph. If you can’t wait, find a buddy with reasonable taste in prose and have them cast a weather eye over your work. Make sure they are wary of word-association substitutions. For some reason these happen a lot with espresso. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve said ‘spatula’ when I meant ‘marketing associate’. Always embarrassing.

Coming Down

For me, only time will do it. I have friends who swear a good shot of whiskey’ll bring you down, but this only gives my brain a split personality. It is no fun when the whiskey side and the espresso side start having a debate about whether the brain is sleepy or super-awake. The whiskey side will put its head down on the table and the espresso side will basically bounce up and down and poke the whiskey side with a finger, all the while saying, “Let’s play let’s play let’s play don’t sleep let’s play” like a puppy on cocaine.

Time, tons of water, and the works of Karl Marx. This is my recommendation. Or you can just stay up all night and Tweet the goings-on of the wee hours. Also amusing. Last night, three college kids were chatting under my window. Which is, it should be mentioned, pretty far along the side of my house. Apparently the college kids were moseying along the street and thought, hey, the best place to hang out and chat is totally way onto this house’s property, under a window. Sidewalks and public parks (of which there are no less than four within two blocks of my place) are for losers.

Tweet: “Chased college kids out from under bedroom window by wielding swords in underwear and chanting The Second Coming. Feeling victorious.”

Subscribe subscribe subscribe subscribe. The espresso wants to play.


  1. Hey Roguey-Rogue. Glad you’re back, btw. I regard it as a WIN for the patient masses. (I wish I was as disciplined as you in keeping away from Teh Internets when I need to get shiz done.)

    I love espresso. I first learned to drink it in Hungary; since I haven’t been to Rome and England so totally doesn’t count as proper Europe, I have to take what I can get.

    I find the only problem with espresso is the way it makes your pee smell gross. And when you’re chugging all that water down to make the head-spins go away, there’s a lot of peeing to be done. Unfortunate side effect.

    Also, you will probably like this list: 100 Most Often Mispronounced Words and Phrases in English

    Espresso gets an entry.

    That’s all for now. I’m off to get lunch and do a even less work.

    Comment by Sunili — August 22, 2008 @ 5:18 am | Reply

  2. Thank you!

    This has settled a long-running argument between me and a close friend. Infuriatingly, he orders a double espresso everywhere we go before sipping at it urgently for 40 minutes, accompanied by flatulent lip-smacking noises like Hannibal Lecter caught in a strong wind. It may be the nectar of the gods, but bloody well knock it back and stop flapping around!

    One time, he actually squeezed the lemon directly into the espresso before drinking it. He would have laughed riotously at anyone demonstrating the same bad form with a shot of tequila, but apparently it’s perfectly acceptable these days; even our Italian barista failed to bat her delicately curled lashes in horror, or speed dial the Polizia Provinciale to have him sent away and strung up as I would have hoped.

    Some days I consider starting one of those social etiquette websites that shows the exact angle to tilt one’s head when passing a fellow Lord on your way to the races. Sadly, I fear that doing so would be terribly bad form.

    Comment by Nick Cernis — August 22, 2008 @ 10:03 am | Reply

  3. Sadly, or not at all sadly, depending on how you look at it, I’m becoming so overwhelmed by the riotously funny posts here (and comments, Nick), that I lose my inability to speak, or speak coherently.

    In other words, this is so totally hilarious, I am unable to comment on the actual post. Like when I read Calvin and Hobbes. It is sooo funny, I can’t even laugh. Perhaps it’s not appropriate enough, I don’t know.

    Tei, you totally reminded me of Bart Simpson on Focusin.

    I love it when you drink triple espresso.

    Comment by Steph — August 22, 2008 @ 2:27 pm | Reply

  4. […] no longer works for me, it still works wonders for other people, including whoever’s behind Rogue Ink: As I write this, I am cruising the wave of a triple espresso. For those of you who have never […]

    Pingback by Turning Coffee Into a Productive Tool — August 22, 2008 @ 2:37 pm | Reply

  5. Tei,

    Sadly, I have left most caffeine behind, having become intolerant of it somewhere around age 35. I still sneak a bit in, then feel ill, every morning, fool that I am. Your triple-espresso post brings back the good ol’ days in living color. Come down before turning it in is very sage advice indeed. 🙂


    There is only one thing that irks me more than the pronunciation “expresso.” “Nukular.” I bang my head against the wall every time our esteemed (?) president says it. Gah!!

    (They missed one on that list: “duck tape” for “duct tape.” So widely goofed up that it’s a brand name now.)


    Is the bad form in the tipping of the head or in the informing of the unwashed masses? I love curmudgeonly blogs on being delightfully old-fashioned and proper. I say you go for it and allow the ragged people to feign being posh. Disturb the status quo, old man. I shall be your first email-sub.



    Comment by Kelly — August 22, 2008 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

  6. In my boring mchouse neighborhood that lacks any cultural diversity, we have an actual Italian coffee house owned and run by Italians. Un caffe is truly un caffe. Of course you must first boldly (like a tough Jersey chick) walk past the group of old Italian men sitting in groups outside the shop, leering as they talk of who got whacked and hold your nose so that you don’t suffocate from the putrid smoke from cigarettes and ignore the big ashtrays on the counter…but if you can get past it all you will have one darn fine un caffe!

    Comment by Karen Swim — August 22, 2008 @ 3:57 pm | Reply

  7. Sunili: That is totally becoming the inspiration for a post. I thought about commenting on the correct pronunciation of ‘espresso’ but I forgot about it because I was seeing sounds.

    Nick: You must make this blog, and invite the entirety of the House of Lords to come comment upon it. Hilarity would ensue. Sell tickets. Make popcorn. Take bets on who can look farthest down their nose.

    Steph: Bart Simpson, hm? One of the rogue’s many great icons.

    Kelly: Love the caffeine! The caffeine will never abandon you! You just have to get some carbs in your system beforehand so the espresso doesn’t burn a hole in your stomach lining.

    Karen: Italian guys are actually serious gentlemen. You don’t realize this because they flirt so hard-core, but they are the most respectful men of a woman saying ‘no’ that I have ever seen. I love Italian men. They think it’s their duty to buy you dinner and cabs and they consider themselves lucky if you let them kiss your hand goodnight.

    Comment by Tei — August 22, 2008 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

  8. I love my espresso machine! If you want to try something neat, I recommend a couple of things – first, the ristretto:

    My machine has dual outputs i.e. it can do two cups at once, and my wife likes a flat white after dinner (she picked up the habit in New Zealand):

    So I arrange the cups under the machine’s outputs, the small one on the left for me, and the larger one on the right for her, and once I’ve finished the pull for the ristretto (only a few seconds), I move it out of the way and finish the shot of espresso for her flat white. Then I drink my ristretto in one gulp, no sugar, while I’m steaming the milk!

    Coffee ballet…


    Comment by Brett Legree — August 22, 2008 @ 4:37 pm | Reply

  9. Oh, you have hit my one weakness. My favorite coffee drink, and my wife can attest to this, is a quad shot of espresso, straight up, and on the rocks if it is hot outside. Personally, nothing in the world is more delighting, less I should have one while winning the lottery.

    I have been drinking espresso since I was a baby (I swear my big brothers put it in my bottle, and my mom had no intention of stopping them) My whole family loves drinking coffee, and one of my brothers and I actually owned a coffee catering business at one point. He still has the commercial espresso maker in his kitchen and for that I am oh, so jealous.

    My wife bought me an espresso maker for the stove because I kept breaking all of the residential ones by stuffing too much coffee into the itty bitty filter and trying to run it. The best is the little caramel colored foam/froth that comes out if you do it right.

    I will have to go get some now as I sit here drooling from thinking about it.

    Comment by Sal — August 22, 2008 @ 8:06 pm | Reply

  10. @Kelly: Weird, the same thing happened to me! Except at around 30 rather than 35. It sucks, because I love coffee.

    Comment by Steph — August 22, 2008 @ 9:43 pm | Reply

  11. Steph: Bart Simpson on Focusin? Excellent reference.
    Tei: Did you discover that Major League Baseball is spying on us?

    As an Italian (Tessitore is my maiden name), I can attest to Tei’s comments about Italian men: They are truly gentlemen — and, madon, can they cook!

    Comment by Rebecca Smith — August 25, 2008 @ 8:38 pm | Reply

  12. @Tei & @Kelly: Look what you’ve done. I went and registered a domain to house my online finishing school for the modern-day peasant. Expect a proper announcement one day soon…

    Comment by Nick Cernis — August 29, 2008 @ 11:30 am | Reply

  13. I never knew chatting under your window was such an easy way to get you running after me in your underwear. Duly noted.

    Comment by MonstersMama — August 29, 2008 @ 4:49 pm | Reply

  14. […] couldn’t shut up about that Someday Syndrome. As a result, two thousand people decide to get an expresso high and debate the paradox of happiness, and we heard monkeys with megaphones for days […]

    Pingback by Adventures in Self-Discovery (non-masturbation style) — Write From Home — August 30, 2008 @ 10:19 pm | Reply

  15. Tei – Tag, you’re it! 😉

    Comment by Allison Day — September 1, 2008 @ 5:29 am | Reply

  16. I’d like to go on record saying every time I’ve seen you order an espresso-based beverage in America and you’ve added fourteen packages of sugar, thereby rendering the whole purpose of your delicious beverage moot with an avalanche of unnecessary sweet, I have silently judged you.

    Comment by Tessa — September 2, 2008 @ 1:52 pm | Reply

  17. For those of us who do our writing primarily at coffee shops, this post wonderful.

    Comment by Jen Brister — September 17, 2008 @ 3:17 am | Reply

  18. Bwahahahahaha. I love you, genius.

    Comment by Jojo — September 17, 2008 @ 7:16 pm | Reply

  19. […] Apparently, if you take this too far, you may cause someone to start a new blog. I love curmudgeonly blogs on being delightfully old-fashioned and proper. I say you go for it and allow the ragged people to feign being posh. Disturb the status quo, old man. I shall be your first email-sub. —Yes, folks, that’s how I talk when invited to a party at Rogue Ink. […]

    Pingback by Tip of the Week: Push a Friend :: Maximum Customer Experience Blog — September 20, 2008 @ 9:17 am | Reply

  20. You’ve been kind of silent lately. How hard did you come down from that espresso high?

    In fact… You’ve been silent ever since I found you via the “Top 10 blogs for writer” contest, and subsequently hooked on to your feed!

    Tell me – and do be frank – is it me? Is this the old “I stepped into a conversation I shouldn’t have heard, and now everyone is silently starring at the ceiling while they wait for me to leave”-thing?

    This is soo high school all over…

    Comment by Rolf — September 21, 2008 @ 7:50 pm | Reply

  21. Funny, I had this conversation about cappuccino with my MBA prof on Saturday.

    Comment by Christien — September 24, 2008 @ 6:37 am | Reply

  22. Ok Tei.
    I would rather have posts from you that are terrible rather than no posts at all. ( I don’t think that could happen, but do let us be the judge. We denizens judge on a curve.)
    I know that goes against the awesomeness that is your modus operandi.
    I want to know how work is going for you. Are you flourishing?

    Comment by Muffy — September 29, 2008 @ 9:07 pm | Reply

  23. Muffy,

    I am duly chastised. And I am back.

    Comment by Tei — October 1, 2008 @ 3:55 am | Reply

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