“Vuoi un café?” You’re asked as your empty piatto secondo is taken from the table. It is the next logical step in the sequence of servings; the question is never of content, the answer is always a given, and within minutes a small tazzini is placed in front you, espresso within.
So is espresso a brewing method? Or the drink? Technically, it’s both. Espresso is made by forcing steam through finely ground and compacted coffee beans, thereby “expressing” its flavour.  But it is also the default setting for the Italian coffee – the technical term rather than the everyday one  for the frequently consumed and culturally essential “café.”
When enjoyed at a bar, the café is consumed standing up at the counter – in most establishments, there is a service surcharge for sitting at a table, but the price is regulated (at €1) if standing up at the bar. You order a café, never an espresso, and within a minute a small tazzini is placed in front of you on the accompanying saucer with the dark syrupy sustenance and crema within. It arrives at a drinkable temperature: there is no need to wait, no need to sit, and you move to the side to allow others to order, and finish your shot within a few gulps. When you are done, you pay, and you leave.
It was while at a house, however, doing the rounds visiting relatives, that its appeal became most obvious.
When enjoyed at a house, the café is consumed sitting at a table. Upon entering the residence, you partake in the preliminary greetings and the double baci (kiss). You are invited in, and the offer of café is presented. When you accept, the café is brewed and, relative to the number of guests it is made for, takes exactly enough time for you to catch up on new gossip and reminisce about the good old days. That is the appeal of the café.
Within two to ten minutes, a small tazzini is placed in front of you on a saucer with the homebrewed café within, sugar bowl on the side. It arrives at a drinkable temperature: there is no need to wait, but at a table, there is no need to rush. The shot is substantial enough for you to sip slowly, and you do so to enjoy the company you’re in. It is modest enough for you to finish quickly, and you do so if you’re limited in time (or desire) for such enjoyment. That is the appeal of the café.
When you are done, you are not offered another; because of the café’s concentration, there is rarely a need for one, so you take the opportunity to say your thanks, and you leave. It lends itself well to ‘doing the rounds’ – there is likely a lot more family to visit and it’s better you take your caffeine hits in small, steady doses rather than all at once. That is the appeal of the café.
The café doesn’t warrant a whole affair, but merits social intercourse where called for it. Through its relatively swift brewage, socially appropriate dosage, precise drinking temperature, and ability to be consumed alone or alongside some dolce, it’s no wonder it is the complementary beverage of choice to the “quick hello.” Here, the café isn’t merely a drink but an excuse for a fast and dirty social experience over liquid fuel that’s perfectly executed with Italian propriety. And that is the appeal of the café.