Drip Denver & Genova's Biscotti
Olives and Coffee
A Guest Blog by Emily Stewart, Drip Denver Daughter and Marketing Manager
When I arrive to Café Ole around 8AM, I am one of only two women in the orange-hued hole-in-the-wall coffee shop. One is the dark-haired woman incessantly squishing oranges into a juicer behind the bar. The tattooed man frothing milk next to her is her husband. I learn of the relationship when her husband hands the tall man next to me his cappuccino with a bemused and contrary look, teasing him like an older brother. The tall man is obviously a regular like 95% of the other people here. I laugh, asking the tall man, “Will he look at me like that when he gives me my coffee?” The tall man replies, “No, because that’s his wife, so he’s not allowed to look at you at all.” The wife chuckles as orange juice trails sticky yellow down her smooth arms.
Café Ole is 100% a local Maltese morning watering hole, because in Malta “water” seems to be milky brown coffee and pastries. Men crowd the standing-room only counter, slamming macchiatos like vodka shots and sipping cappuccinos like prosecco.
In further promotion my “otherness,” I use my crisp consonant-packed American monotone to order a “LARGE AMERICANO WITH EXTRA WATER” and a Maltese ftira on an Italian brown baguette. Ftira is my new favorite food in the world. It’s Malta in a sandwich: tuna, capers, kunserva (spiced tomato puree), broad beans, olives, and pepper. Normally ftira is served on half of a hobz bread roll, but I choose a baguette because my jaw still aches from yesterday’s breakfast sandwich. Hobz is traditionally super crunchy crust that preserves a super soft interior for up to one week.
Each village in Malta has its own antique creaking windmill. In the past, the windmills powered flour grinders that shared a space with communal ovens. Maltese women met once weekly at the windmill to grind their flour and undertake the day-long process of bread baking. Communal grinding and baking meant the women didn’t have to elevate the heat in their own home or search for their own fuel in broiling, dusty Malta. Really, using Italian bread for my sandwich is as Maltese as choosing hobz. At least 1/3 of the population speaks Italian. In fact, many of them don’t speak English or Maltese.
Sandwich and coffee clutched in hand, I realize there’s no way myself and my tourists’ backpack can stay on the packed main floor or out front on the covered picnic tables crawling with laughing Maltese regulars. Instead I climb the spiral staircase to the top floor, where I find a small loft. There’s a rounded window looking out onto the narrow street, bar stools around a skylight to the heads of coffee drinkers below, and wicker picnic furniture. I sink into the chair and grab a big red pillow to sit on like a little girl at an ice cream parlor.
It’s the perfect place to get creative with this piece, which is good because now is the third time I’ve returned to the assignment empty-handed. I’m trying to write a series of stories for my mom’s coffee shop, Drip Denver, and our biscotti suppliers, Genova’s. Like Drip, Genova’s is a family-owned, female-operated establishment in Denver. I want to guest contribute a story series to Genova’s short stories series about the different biscotti-toting coffee shops I find in Malta. I assumed it would be easy to find Italian biscotti in Maltese coffee shops. The latter is easy: independent coffee shops are more ubiquitous than Starbucks on 16th Street, Denver. But biscotti? Lo and behold, it seems I can only find ftira and cappuccinos.
As my eyes wander from my computer, I realize with shock that this loft in Café Ole is nearly identical to the loft of Drip Denver, my mom’s coffee shop. The orangey-red décor, tables and barstools for standing and sitting; people reading, working, talking, and musing; the smell of toasted sandwiches and toasted milk… Even the cherry wood and dark metal railings are the same. There’s a woman working behind the bar. Even though the lady behind the salad bar makes sandwiches, not biscotti, I feel like she’d fit right in with the Genova’s crew. The photos on the wall are kitsch romanticized images of lovers on stairs, vapid tourists, and stars like Elvis and Marilyn. Looking at them I remember with delight that when my family purchased Drip we removed the same classic, silly photos from Drip’s walls to promote modern work by local artists. Now, I want to ask my mom to put them back up.
My breath smells horrible but I sit savoring the dually delicious and acrid remnants of olives and coffee. It tastes the way I feel. Sitting here in Café Ole, I miss my mom and wonder about biscotti. I feel whole and incomplete at the same time. Whole, because I see that wherever I go there’s a certain safety to heartfelt food and good coffee, especially from the hearts of capable women. Incomplete, because I wish those capable women coffee were here to acknowledge this discovery with me.
So I write this piece instead, getting little goose bumps as I do, willing with all the caffeine in my veins that my mom feels the biscotti-sweet love being sent her way.