The Venetian Coffee Story and A Recipe for You !

Cava – coffee was known to the Venetian mercanti (spice merchants) and spezieri (call them spice experts, for now) as early as in the 12th century. Back then, polvere de cava (dark coffee powder) and roasted coffee beans were considered “just another spice”. And the same was true for sucaro de canna – cane sugar, also considered una spezia (spice).

In the 11th century, Venetian merchants came across an enticing black broth in the harbor cities of the Levant, such as Aleppo, Damascus, and Constantinople. And that’s when a very special success story began, with Venice playing a decisive role.

From the 13th century, the these merchants brought home to Venice roasted coffee powder, which was then distributed by the spice masters called spezieri. These spezieri had their own atelier called laboratorio. By the way, these spice masters in Venice are considered the predecessors of modern apothecaries in Europe.

In the Venetian spezerie (spice apothecaries), coffee was offered sweetened with cane sugar, coal-black and always without milk.

The migraine patients loved it, and so did practically all Venetians 🙂 And yes, in the 15th century, coffee and spices played a major role in daily life in Venice, to promote health, beauty, a good complexion. Spices and even coffee powder were also used e to flavor food and as ingredients for sweet pastries and little sweets.

As Venetians sort of “over-indulged” in these sweet remedies, which were easily available in town, the profession of spezieri da confeti became fashionable. The spezieri da confeti are the predecessors of the pastry stores you will find in town these days.

As early as in the 14th century, spezieri da confeti created sweet artworks, but also tiny pastries called pasticceria mignon. They were very inventive, using healing ingredients such as blossom syrups (even wisteria and lilac syrup!), coffee and saffron-cinnamon liquors, acquavite, eggnog liquore al vovo, rosolio, coffee, cocoa powder, candied flower petals,  and mimosa blossoms.

So now you know that long before the famous cafes opened in Piazza San Marco, the spezieri sold coffee in their tiny botteghe in Venice. Coffee was also sold in the malvasie (wine bars), where Venetian noblemen drank not just a glass of vino cipriota but also black coffee.

Today, Venetians still love their tiny coffee stores, pastry stores and bakeries. Practically all of us visit a pastry store or bar-caffé at least once a day! In a way, these tiny stores have inherited the ancient art of coffee-making and baking, and still produce ancient coffee mixtures and sweet breads enriched with natural ingredients, like blossom syrup, sweet spices and dried fruit.

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18 Comments

  1. Great summary of little-known coffee history. I definitely learned a lot. Oh, and coffee is still used to improve daily health. I don’t know how I’d function without my morning espresso! Cool post!

    1. Thank you! Coffee definitely has its health benefits ☕☕☕ and there are some ingredients, especially spice mixtures and other delicious recipes with coffee, that make it even more healthy and restoring ☺☺

    1. Yes, there will be a few pages on torrefazione. There are 3 bigger torrefazioni -Girani, Cannareggio and Caffè del Doge. From outside, there’s also Goppion with a strong presence in Venice.

    1. Yes, you would have survived in Venice in the 12th century😀, but coffee powder would’t have been a main good to buy, it was very expensive. You would have mixed it with spices ☺

      1. In the 12th century – you would have been a spice baron (merchant), and you would have first tasted coffee, a “special black spice” drink in Damascus or Alexandria. There weren’t enough amounts of coffee produced to export on grand scale. So first, coffee was used as a precious spice remedy.

    1. You are welcome ☺ The Venetians, probably like the ambassadors of other Maritime Republics like Amalfi, came across the coffee drink in the Levant, but it was the Venetians who started importing it to Venice, and trade and refine / flavor it.

    1. Thank you for sharing !!! Bialetti is a favorite with Venetians, too. I bought a new Bialetti just a few weeks ago. It comes in the most amazing colors, and it’s an excellent coffee maker.

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