I'd like to recount some of the differences I observed in coffee and cafe culture between Europe and the United States, Milwaukee in particular. I'd also like to extrapolate a bit and talk about how those might reflect deeper differences in how we live.
I've written before about our repudiation of the larger, and there's no better example than the empty tables and chairs outside restaurants and coffeehouses in Milwaukee, even on an almost perfect summer evening such as this. An embrace of the larger--presumably the route taken by the inhabitants of Paris, for example--is to sit outside in close quarters with strangers while enjoying admittedly overpriced food and drink. By and large, those people also have e-mail inboxes, Facebook feeds and televisions--but they know when to turn them off. The greatest tragedy of life in the United States over the last thirty years has been the individual bubbles we have all grown around ourselves.
We've made remarkable gains in the last dozen or so years in counteracting that, at least on occasion. Where municipal codes usually prohibited outside seating here, it has now become commonplace. However, it is woefully underutilized compared to Europe, where you often wouldn't even be able to get a seat. Sadly, it seems that of the two groups, only Europeans enjoy being around other people for the sheer joy of it. Here, every ideal tends toward escape. Our cars and houses can never be large enough to insulate us from others, our suburbs never far enough to keep us from the great unwashed, our Purell never abundant enough to wash away contamination from others.
Until, in a moment, the illusion shatters, as it did in the Denver area in April 1999 and again last month. I hardly think it's a coincidence that both crimes should have been committed in the newer, Western America of sprawling suburbs, endless commutes and absentee parents. I believe the system that perpetuates those things is a kind of violence against us all. It takes a severe toll on our relationships and our mental and physical health. It's not capitalism; capitalism flourishes as well or better without them. It's the hyperspeed and hypergreed of people and institutions that want us to consume--particularly fossil fuels--at the fastest burn rate possible.
Anyway, to return to the original topic, the menu in that European cafe will offer simply "coffee", in perhaps five configurations with varying amounts of milk. In my experience, no cup is larger than about six ounces. The drinks usually have more or less crema and the taste being aimed for seems to be bland and unobtrusive, with most cups also being overextracted. The few satisfactory European coffees I had include an outstanding espresso taken with lunch in Paris and...espresso at Starbucks. Most notably, Parisian Starbucks (at least at one location) offered a choice of dark or Blonde roast espresso. I had the Blonde, and it was outstanding.
By the way, in-room coffee is not common in Europe. I'd recommend buying a small, inexpensive hot water boiler at a department store for the equivalent of ten bucks, then picking up some sticks of instant coffee (or even bringing VIA or some such from the States; the Starbucks in Europe don't seem to have VIA).