Cappuccino – From Religion to Coffee Machines to Art

In Australia, we take our coffee like this. We typically boil water, add a teaspoon of instant coffee, a drop of milk in a big cup and enjoy it first thing in the morning while getting ready for work or school, or if you need a morning jolt, stop at the cafe and take a to-go paper cup and sip it on your morning commute or walk to your destination.

But in Italy, people take their coffee very seriously and the sole act of drinking coffee is a sacred ritual which requires you to make time for during the day.

A frothy, gentle mix of espresso and warm milk is what we today call a Cappuccino. But the road to cappuccino as we know it was long and nobody is really certain of its true origins and how this favorite Italian coffee came to be.

The name itself stems from the Capuchin order – a 16th-century order of Italian monks. They wore long brown tunics with hoods. Capuccio means hood in Italian. Their light brown tunics and large hoods reminded the early cappuccino lovers of the colour of cappuccino – the coffee mixed with milk.

But who made the first cappuccino?  

According to one story, a Capuchin monk by the name of Marco d’Aviano was sent by the Pope to Vienna to strike a deal with Leopold I and arrange a military coalition to fight the Ottoman Empire. In those days (16th century) Europeans were drinking coffee prepared in the Ottoman way: coffee and water were mixed together and boiled. Sometimes sugar was added to remove the bitterness. When our Capuchin friar Marco d’Aviano tasted the coffee, not only didn’t he like it (sugar or no sugar) but he was determined to make it better, more drinkable. He added milk and boom! The whole new world opened to European coffee fans! The Viennese café owners called it the Kaputziner by our friar and introduced it to the public.

The other story has a hero of its own: a Polish nobleman, spy, and soldier Georg Franz Kolschitzky. After doing a great job informing the Austrian forces that Vienna had been besieged by the Turks and was in desperate need of help, he was offered a reward. The city of Vienna was liberated and he could ask for anything. Instead of taking gold or money as a reward, he wanted something strange: the numerous sacks of coffee beans left by the Turks in their tents after being defeated by the Austrians. Austrian king laughed, for sure, but granted his wish. (Reminds you of the Nespresso TV commercial with George Clooney-”The Quest”) The truth was, Kolschitzky’s greatest wish was to open a café in Vienna and serve amazing coffee! He opened one of the first cafes in Vienna and “adjusted” the bitter Turkish coffee to Viennese aristocracy taste by adding milk and sugar. Many historical sources state that he was the first man to ever mix coffee with milk, thus creating the cappuccino’s ancestor.  

Of course, it took nearly two centuries after those “coffee with milk stories” for the real foamy cappuccino to take off and conquer the hearts of coffee lovers all over the world.

In 1884. Angelo Moriondo, invented and patented the first known espresso machine. Then came Luigi Bezzera in 1901, who took Moriondo’s machine and improved it significantly. That’s how the real espresso machine was born.

And what a joy that was to not only brew coffee quickly but to also be able to mix it with milk and make a fantastic foam! Thank you Italy!

What’s the right time to drink cappuccino?

If you ask Italians, anytime before 11 am is ok. They consider cappuccino to be a bit heavy later in the day because of milk, so they usually take it with breakfast. Tourists ordering a cappuccino in the afternoon are frowned upon.

Espresso and cappuccino also ignited the “latte art”: the making of beautiful figures by pouring the milk on top of the cup of espresso or cappuccino. Did you have a chance to be served coffee with some latte art? If not, Italy is the place to go. Imagine the divine smell of pastry and cappuccinos being prepared early in the morning, spreading through a narrow street in Milan or Venice, just waiting for you to take your seat at a small round table in front of a decades-old café and jumpstart your morning Italian style.


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