Cappuccino at Fika in New York (Food Memories of 2011, No. 2 )

There's nothing like setting your heart on a luxurious cup of coffee. For a couple of bucks, the world can seem right again. A fantastic cappuccino feels more like a little gift that I give to myself rather than a beverage. It's special, hand-crafted, and something that I truly appreciate in value.

For the month of December, I'm posting a food memory from the year, one for each day of the month, to better appreciate what I have. So here's a little story about a cup of coffee, probably my favorite cup of coffee this year.

A few months ago, I visited a coffee shop in my neighborhood for the first time. It's an adorable cafe, a little out of the way, that I had been meaning to try for a year. When I finally got there, I ended up drinking two or three mouthfuls of some of the worse brown piss water coffees I have ever tasted. I dumped the rest in the gutter. What a disappointment.

The next day, to make up for it, I went to Fikka. Fikka is a tiny Scandinavian coffee shop located just across the street from my office in Manhattan. (The business actually has three locations in New York, if I'm not mistaken, but the one I like is on Park Avenue South at 28th Street.) I like that it's small, cozy, and usually pretty quiet. What made the cappuccino that I bought on this day more special than any other was I knew it was going to be excellent. After the complete let-down from the day before, all I wanted was the promise of something great, and then a delivery on that promise.

I don't cut corners with cappuccinos. I'm willing to pay a little extra for quality, in part because I don't buy them very often. I want whole milk. I'll take a modestly sized cup, too, as the balance of an excellent cup of coffee comes from not only the flavor and strength, but also the balance of quantity. Strong coffee doesn't taste as good after about four ounces of it (this is a point that I feel a lot of Americans don't understand, or refuse to even consider).

When I got my cappuccino on this particular day, I remember spending some time just enjoying the look of the leaf-heart shape drawn into the foam. Someone took the time to add this special touch, and I was happy to see it. As I sipped and slurped my way through the milk and espresso, I wasn't disappointed. Creamy, slightly bitter, notes of chocolate...

I'll admit that most days, I drink simple drip coffee at 6 a.m. in my pajamas without even looking into the mug. But from time to time, it's nice to give yourself the gift of a well balanced cappuccino that someone else has made for you.