The Venetian Coffee Story

Cava – coffee was known to the Venetian mercanti (spice merchants) and the spezieri (call them spice experts, for now) from the 12th century. Back then, polvere de cava dark coffee powder and roasted coffee beans were considered “just another spice”. Just like sucaro de canna cane sugar was considered a spice variety.

Merchants at the trading outposts of the Republic of Venice and Venetian sailors had come across the  black broth in the harbor cities of the Levant as early as the 11th century in Aleppo, Damascus and later in Constantinople (from the 14th century).

From the 13th century, the spice merchants brought home to Venice roasted coffee powder which was sold in town by the spezieri working with the merchants. The spezieri had their own laboratorio and can be considered the precursors of modern apothecaries in Europe.

Coffee was first sold by the spezieri and was considered medicine ! In particular, coffee was used to stabilize mood and low circulation and to fight off migraines. It was drunk sweetened with cane sugar, coal black and without milk. The patients loved it, and so did all Venetians :-) Coffee, chocolate and spices played a major role in Venetian daily life to promote health and even beauty, to enrich food and as ingredients for delicious pastries and little sweets.

These sweets were made by the spezieri da confeti who are  the precursors of pastry stores. They started producing tiny pastries called pasticceria mignon in the 14th century. These little delicacies came enriched with flower syrup, liquors, acquavite, eggnog liquore al vovo, rosolio, coffee, cocoa powder, candied flower petals and even mimosa blossoms.

Baking with flowers is still en vogue in Venice, you can see wonderful examples every day in the Venetian pastry stores.

What the sweets created by the spezièri da confeti must have looked like :-)

Long before coffee houses opened in Piazza San Marco, the spezieri sold coffee in little botteghe in town. Soon, coffee was also sold in the malvasie wine houses, where Venetian noblemen drank not just a glass of vino cipriota but also that tiny cup of invigorating black broth.

Today, Venetians still love their tiny coffee stores, pastry stores and bakeries. Practically all of them enter a pastry store at least once a day ! In a way, these stores are successors to the spice stores in former times.



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  • 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!

    • 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 ☺☺

    • 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.

    • 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 ☺

      • 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.

    • 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.

    • 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.