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.
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.23