History of coffee in Italy

History of coffee in Italy

Guilds of great merchants, specializing by that time in trading exotic spices, crossed the Mediterranean on their sailing vessels, and during the second half of the 16th century, introduced the legendary coffee beans in the leading ports of Europe. In 1570, Venice, a major trading hub of the East, became the first city to import coffee together with tobacco. Prospero Alpini, a famous physician and botanist, was the one who brought coffee to Europe. During his long stay in Egypt, he noticed that the local population cooked a dark drink from seeds that were roasted, ground and boiled. In just a few years, the drink became very popular with the Venetians, and the associated business was gradually expanding.

In 1863, the first “coffee house” was opened in the Procuratie Gallery on St Mark’s Square in Venice. Soon more and more shops began to appear in small squares of the city, the squares began to thrive to such an extent that the authorities of Venice tried to stop the new phenomenon.

Some hierarchs of the Holy Church also took a stand against the introduction of coffee, asking Pope Clement VIII to ban this “devilish drink” – but all in vain. According to historical testimonies, after the Pope himself tried a cup of coffee, he exclaimed: “This drink is so tasty that it would be a shame to leave it solely to nonbelievers. We will defeat Satan by giving him our blessing to make this drink a Christian drink”. Indeed, this marked the beginning of the “golden age” of coffee, which was becoming increasingly popular among Italians. Having lost its exclusive image of medicinal liquid, the legendary drink was consumed anytime and anywhere, in luxury shops and in simple popular cafes. In public circles, coffee was an ideal ingredient both in elevated discussions and in more mundane conversations, predefining an image of the future Italian culture and art. This euphoria also influenced the Venetian writer Carlo Goldoni, who wrote a book “Coffee House”, and Pietro Verri, who founded a weekly philosophical and literary magazine in 1764 with the title speaking for itself – “Il Caffe”.

The work of Carlo Goldoni is placed in one of the first Italian cafes: Caffè Florian in Venice. This confirms the success of the new fashion, spreading quickly in other marvelous Italian cities, as well as all over Europe. The most important cafes, both from a historical and artistic point of view, are Mulassano, San Carlo and Caffe Torino in Turin, Pedrocchi in Padua and Caffe Greco in Rome. Public speakers and disaffected politicians got their arena to challenge the government, artists – to criticize their colleagues, and journalists – to collect material for their stories. Everyone was free to participate in the conversation, even the waiters – trays in their hands – interrupted their clients politely to express their opinion.

To this day, art and culture merge in cafes – symbols and historical temples of the Italian tradition. These were the places where artists, politicians and writers from all over the world could meet in elegant and richly decorated rooms, sipping a cup of good coffee.