The Venetian Coffee Story and A Recipe for You !

Cava – coffee was known to the Venetian mercanti (spice merchants) and the 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 variant”. And the same was true for sucaro de canna – cane sugar was also considered a spice.

Last updated on 1 October 2018. 

Merchants at the trading outposts of the Republic of Venice and Venetian sailors had come across an enticing black broth in the harbor cities of the Levant in the 11th century in Aleppo, Damascus, and in Constantinople in the 14th century.

From the 13th century, the Venetian spice merchants on site in the Levant brought home to Venice roasted coffee powder, distributed in town by the spezieri. These spezieri had their own laboratorio, and thus are considered the predecessors of modern apothecaries in Europe.

Imagine coffee as a remedy: Coffee was first sold by the spezieri and was medicine, or rather, a panacea! In the past, Venetians knew how to use coffee to stabilize mood and low circulation, or to fight off migraines, which you invariably notice in your head when the scirocco, a southerly wind bringing in humidity, warmth and often high tides, is due.

So in the spezerie (spice apothecaries) in Venice, 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, when chemical remedies weren’t available, coffee and spices played a major role in Venetian daily life to promote health, beauty, a good complexion, or in cuisine to enrich food and as ingredients for delicious 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 confetibecame fashionable. These are the predecessors of the pastry stores you will find in town these days.

Spezieri da confeti created sweet artworks, but also tiny pastries, called pasticceria mignon, in the 14th century. And Venetians were very inventive, using ingredients that also come from the remedy corner, 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 cafes opened in Piazza San Marco, the spezieri sold coffee in their tiny botteghe in town. Next, coffee was sold in the malvasie (wine bars), where Venetian noblemen drank not just a glass of vino cipriota but also a lot of cups cup of invigorating black cava.

Today, Venetians still love their tiny coffee stores, pastry stores and bakeries. Practically all of them visit a pastry store at least once a day ! In a way, these our coffee shops are what remains of this one branch of spice stores dedicated to producing sweet breads enriched with natural ingredients, like blossom syrup, sweet spices and dried fruit.

Want to make a coffee, Venetian style of coffee? See how it is done at Torrefazione Cannaregio! But first, here’s your recipe!

Venetian Cappuccino, Autumn Mood

Can we enrich our cappuccino and clad it in autumn mood? Discover our variant for cold mornings, enriched with cinnamon and cardamom!

  • 3 teaspoons ground coffee
  • 5 teaspoons foamed, hot milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and cardamom each
  1. Prepare your usual morning cappuccino, cover it with the milk foam and a teaspoon of cane sugar. Wait for two minutes to let the sugar dissolve in the mik without stirring. You will find that the sugar has created a light cap, which you cover with a hint of cinnamon and cardamom. Drink hot and enjoy with Venetian almond delights!

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  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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