Today, on 29 December 2020, the oldest cafe in the world celebrates a very special birthday! It opened on 29 December 1720 as CAFFÉ ALLA VENEZIA TRIONFANTE, located in Piazza San Marco under the arcades of the Procuratie Nuove.
There’s a reason why this first “official” cafe in our city was called “triumphing Venice”: It was opened at the beginning of a challenging decade, similar to our times: In 1720, Venice was reinventing herself after two devastating pandemics and a war (battle of Lepanto, a Pyrrhus victory from which Venice never really recovered. This is a long story, not just about losing more than two thirds of its ships).
But then in 1720, the spice trade was growing once again and times were improving. Venice was on the verge of turning into the gourmet capital it had always been in Europe: This time, by creating unique dishes and drinks from new ingredients from Asia and the Americas, just arriving in Europe: Tea from China and Sri Lanca, and cocoa from the Americas.
The Venetian patissiers and spice masters mixed these new flavors from the Americas with traditional ones like spices, liquors, and syrups. And it was CAFFÉ ALLA VENEZIA TRIONFANTE offering all these treats, together with coffee, for the first time in the heart of Venice, in Piazza San Marco..
First called Alla Venezia trionfante – Venice rising once again after a century which had been extremely difficult – it didn’t take long until everyone called the cafe after its founder, FLORIANO FRANCESCONI – Caffé Florian.
If you take a close look at the menu of Caffé Florian, you will notice one special tea called VENEZIA 1720. This drink recalls the optimistim of the 1720s in Venice: It’s tea flavored with one of those ancient Venetian spice mixes, consisting of cinnamon, cardamom and other flavors. I love to drink this tea with liquid cream, flavored with a drop of grappa or liquore al caffé.
Buon Compleanno, Caffé Florian, always a pioneer in Venetian culinary history and coffee culture, yours will be an essential role in the decade ahead.10