Today, November 8, is National Cappuccino Day! Cappuccino is one of the most popular coffee drinks in the world. It is consumed daily by coffee lovers in Europe, Australia, South America and North America; and, it is standard fare at major coffee baristas like Starbucks, Caribou's and others.
Did the Capuchins really invent Cappuccino? Yes – well, kind of! To discover the answer, we have to go back to the middle 17th century. Marco was a young man growing up in the Italian village of Aviano. Deeply inspired by his encounter with the local Capuchin Franciscans, Marco believed God was calling him to join the order. In 1648, he entered the novitiate and a year later professed his vows and was given the name Friar Marco of Aviano.
Due to his reputation for sanctity, Marco was sought after for advice and guidance in the spiritual life. There are even mention of miraculous healings that occurred through his intercession. Marco eventually became a trusted confidant and adviser to Leopold I and Pope Innocent XI, offering guidance in all matters spiritual, political and economic.
On the eve of the Battle of Vienna (1683), which was crucial to halting the advance of Turkish forces into Europe, Marco rallied the Catholics and Protestants to defend their country. Following the incredible victory, the Viennese reportedly found sacks of coffee abandoned by the Turks. Finding it far too strong for their tastes, they diluted it with whipped cream and spices. The drink being of a brown color similar to that of Marco's Capuchin habit, the Viennese named it “cappuccino” in honor of their beloved friar.
This color was quite distinctive at the time and “capuchin” was a common description of the color of red-brown in 17th century Europe. The word “cappuccino” in its Italian form is not known in Italian writings until the 20th century, but the German “Kapuziner” is mentioned as a coffee beverage in the 18th century in Austria and is described as “coffee with sugar, egg yolks and cream” in dictionary entries from 1800 onward.
By the time of the First World War, Cappuccino was a common coffee drink in cafés in the parts of northern Italy which at that time still belonged to Austria.
The use of fresh milk in coffee in cafés and restaurants is a newer phenomenon (from the 20th century) when refrigeration became common. The use of full cream is known much further back in time, as this was a product more easily stored and frequently used also in cooking and baking. Thus, a “cappuccino” was prepared with a very small amount of cream to get the “capuchin” color. Today, cappuccino is still served in Viennese traditional cafés: still black coffee with only a few drops of cream.
There you have the history of the cappuccino and the legends surrounding its origin. The next time you kick back at a Starbucks and sip on this delicious drink, remember to pray for the Capuchin Franciscans!