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The history of cappuccino: how did one of the best-loved drinks in Italy first come about?

The history of cappuccino: how did one of the best-loved drinks in Italy first come about?

Brioche and cappuccino, for many Italians, are the essential elements of the perfect breakfast.

If the seductive flavor of the drink is unmistakable and the fruit of work by expert baristas, its origins are uncertain and lost, as often happens, amid legends, anecdotes and truths.

In the history of the cappuccino many places, cultures and civilizations are interwoven, with at least two constants: the city of Vienna and the Turkish tradition.

So let’s look together at the personalities and populations that may have played a key role, where the name “cappuccino” comes from and when it started to look like the drink we all know and love today.

The history of cappuccino between truth and legend

There are many versions of the story which recounts the origins of cappuccino.

The first attributes the invention to Marco da Aviano, a friar belonging to the order of Capuchin monks, confidant of Leopold I of Hapsburg, the Holy Roman Emperor.

Sent by the Pope to Vienna in 1683, once he arrived in the city, he was served a coffee.

The cleric, though, found that the coffee was too bitter and asked for it to be sweetened with the addition of some other ingredients.

They gave him some milk, which made the coffee color lighter and gave it a color similar to the brown of the tunic of the Capuchin monks.

The story goes that at some point a waiter exclaimed “Kapuziner!”, when he realized.

According to many, this scene took place in the café of an ex soldier, Franciszek Jerzy Kulczycki, who, on returning from the front, had brought back with him the sacks of coffee abandoned by the Turkish troops on the battlefield and had opened the first bar in the Hapsburg capital which served this drink.

On the other hand, another legend tells that it was the very same Kulczycki to give the name Kapuziner to the coffee he served, to which he had added milk, honey and spices to make the flavor sweeter.

And finally, there are those who claim that the cappuccino we know today was due to the reworking in Trieste of a Viennese drink from the 18th century.

Cream before milk

If it is impossible to know exactly how cappuccino came about, there are however some constants in the history of cappuccino.

First of all, it seems to have been established that originally liquid cream was used instead of milk, since this ingredient first appeared on the scene between the 17th and 18th centuries.

Furthermore, the coffee was very different from what we drink today, because it was prepared according to the traditional Ottoman custom: the Turkish infusion method.

The modern cappuccino

As confirmed by the historian and journalist Alessandro Marzo Magno, author of Il genio del gusto – Come il mangiare italiano ha conquistato il mondo (The Genius of Taste – how Italian cuisine has conquered the world) , the modern cappuccino is totally unlike the original one, which was actually more simular to a caffe latte.

In fact the typical foam appeared at the beginning of the 20th century, with the invention of bar espresso machines.

In the 1930s, there was the first evidence regarding the consumption of cappuccino in Italy, where it was usually served with cinnamon and chocolate flakes.

This drink became increasingly appreciated, to the point where many bars and restaurants started serving it.

The espresso machines, though, were not yet so easy to use, nor that widespread.

The Golden age of the cappuccino, which is still ongoing, started at the end of the Second World War, when the drink became what we know today, an elegant balance between the espresso coffee and the foamed milk.

Since then, its success has taken it to every corner of the globe, to conquer palates everywhere thanks also to delicious variations and the reworking of all the reinterpretations that ride the trends of the moment.

From cappuccino to Latte art

From the passion for cappuccino and the espresso macchiato a real art has been created, which consists of decorating the surfaces of these two drinks. 

Latte art, almost certainly invented in the 1970s in Italy, is today a refined technique, for which there are also training courses aimed at industry professionals , who challenge each other with latte art designs in national and international competitions.

Did you know the story of cappuccino?

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