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Having a Cup of Coffee Isn't Always a Simple Matter

May 03, 1990|GEORGE KEENEN

Remember when a trip to the local cafe was pretty simple? Coffee was coffee. Cream was cream. Sugar, sugar.

But not so anymore. Coffee is on the menu with a slew of other beverage names not all of which are found in the average dictionary. There are espressos, cappuccino, cafe au laits and lattes. And to further complicate things, it seems that just when you've decided you like lattes or cafe au laits , someone has to go and change the ingredients.

Don't be embarrassed. After a poll of 14 local espresso establishments, it seems that consumers aren't the only ones who are confused. There was little or no agreement among the merchants as to exactly what a cappuccino or cafe au lait or latte is.

That's probably why the public is confused.

Everyone seems to agree on espresso. That's easy. An espresso is a shot of dark, thick coffee that, if well-made, will be served with a thin layer of creamy brown foam on top. And, if the restaurant has a sense of style, it will be served in a demitasse cup accompanied with a lemon rind and a sugar cube.

Beth McCarthy of the Kitchen Cafe was in agreement with most of the merchants when she said: "We sell far more cappuccinos than espresso.

"But I miss the real espresso person," she added. "People go right to the cappuccinos and miss the whole espresso tradition of the lemon peel and the sugar cube, the spoon, the whole delicate little thing about it."

"Americans think it is too strong," said Sam Fildi of Berto's Ristorante.

Most of the merchants agreed on what a cappuccino is: a shot of espresso and a unit of steamed milk and foam. Voila is one exception. The recipe there is to put cocoa in first, then the coffee, then the steamed milk, then more cocoa.

And when it comes to the murky area of cafe lattes and cafe au lait , there is no agreement at all.

At City Bakery, a latte is a cappuccino with double milk, and cafe au lait is a regular coffee with steamed milk; at Berto's, cafe au lait is a cappuccino with more steamed milk, which is a cafe latte at the Kitchen Cafe in Ventura. The Clocktower Inn's cafe au lait is the Victoria's cappuccino. And so on. In fact, one restaurateur said she served both cafe au lait and cafe latte , and was unable to explain the difference.

Prices are as varied as the recipes. Espressos range from $1 to $3. Cappuccino ranges from $1.50 to $3. You can get them with flavors added (hazelnut and almond are popular). Or you can go wild. At Charlie's, there are a wild array of coffee drinks with liqueurs, including Cafe Charles--a cappuccino with six different liqueurs added.

For years, Ottavio's in Camarillo was the only restaurant beyond the grade that served it. About five years ago Voila Cafe blazed the way in Ventura. And now there are numerous places that serve these pungent brews, including Voila, Bedford's, the Clocktower Inn, Lorenzoni's Village Gourmet, Charlie's, the Royal Bakery, Berto's, Frankie's, the Victoria Pub, the Kitchen Cafe and City Bakery in Ventura; the Whale's Tail in Oxnard, and Ottavio's, Fabrizio's and the California Grill in Camarillo.

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