Which is the place of origin?
Before the 19th-century, there were many who hypothesized the origins of coffee, among which Pellegrino Artusi speaks in his famous manual “Science in the kitchen and the art of eating well”, arguing that the place to start discovering the origin of the drink should have been Yemen because the coffee of Mokha (city of Yemen) was the best coffee he had ever tasted.
Just in 19th century, it was concluded that the plant had Ethiopian origins, namely the region of Kaffa, from which the drink took its name: “coffee”.
The mystery of the origin of coffee is surrounding by numerous anecdotes and legends, one of those tells that Kaldi, 6th-century shepherd, left his sheep free to graze in search of bushes and grasses. One night the sheep, however, did not return to the sheepfold and were found by the shepherd the next morning near the bushes of red berries, particularly lively and awake.
Kaldi decided to collect some berries and take them to a nearby monastery where the frightened monks decided to throw them into the fire. The aroma that was released convinced the religious to pick the fruit and prepare an invigorating infusion that helped them stay awake during the long prayer vigils.
Another legend speaks of a meeting between the Archangel Gabriel and Muhammad in which the latter was helped during a moment of exhaustion by a drink black as the Holy Stone of Mecca that allowed him to disarm in battle 40 riders and satisfy no less than 40 women (sic!)
Surely between the 12th and 14th century, coffee began to spread in Yemen thanks to the Ethiopian invasions of the area and the Arabian peninsula through the coasts of the Red Sea until arriving in the first half of 15th century in Istanbul.
The first to import coffee beans into Europe was the Venetian merchants who in 1605 bought from Muslim merchants a load of coffee with tea, cocoa and tobacco and maintained the monopoly of the coffee trade in Europe for about a century until also other European powers began to treat coffee directly with the Arabs who very jealously guarded the plants and traded only seeds that could not sprout.
In 1616, however, the Dutch managed to steal some seedlings in Yemen and then import them into their own colonies of Java and Sumatra. The coffee was planted by the French in their colonies in Martinique, Santo Domingo and Guyana and in 1727 Brazil, a Portuguese colony will become the largest coffee producer. In 1730 the English began the cultivation in Jamaica and in 1750, thanks to the Spanish Jesuits, coffee arrived in Cuba and then in Colombia and Mexico and then returned to the African continent, in Tanzania in 1877 and Kenya in 1892.
In the first half of 15th century in Istambul was open the first “coffeehouse “(Kahwe Khaneh) and the coffee was called” Wine of Islam “being a valid substitute for alcohol banned by the Koran but will have to wait for about a century when around 1650 in London opened the first coffeehouse, a sort of club where was possible taste the drink; in 1663 they became 88 throughout England and about sixty years later there were already more than 3000.
As in Istanbul also in England, they spread as meeting places especially for writers, politicians and philosophers.
Shortly thereafter, this dark drink spread throughout Europe: in 1670 the first coffeehouse was opened in Berlin; the opening of the first coffeehouse” in Austria is linked to the siege of Vienna in 1683 when the Ottomans withdrew leaving on the edge of the city the sacks with their supply of coffee.
These bags were given to the Polish military Georg Kolschitzky who opened the first European coffeehouse called “the Blue flask” where they were also served small crescent-shaped sweets symbol of defeated Turkey, the ancestors of today’s Croissants.
The last place reached by coffee was Paris in 1686.
The city of Venice, where coffee arrived in 1570, was the first to make use of this drink in Italy; the first shops, however, were opened only in 1645 by the doctor and writer Francesco Redi while the first coffeehouse was inaugurated in 1720 on San Marco Square and named “Florian coffee”.
It was only a few years after the first coffeehouse was opened in the United States, precisely in the city of Boston called “London coffee house”, eight years later, in 1696, in New York, it opened “The King’s Arms”.
Around 1700 in Europe, every city had at least one coffee house, but we must wait until the beginning of this century to talk about espresso thanks to the invention of the espresso coffee machine, wrongly attributed to Luigi Bezzera, a mechanic (not an engineer) Milanese who patented the first steam coffee machine, modifying the project already patented by Angelo Moriondo, an industrialist in Turin.
Not everyone knows it, but Turin has also been and still is the Italian capital of coffee, leading the art of roasting, and boasts absolute supremacy that nobody can ever take away from, because – just in Turin – in 1884 it was prepared and served the first espresso coffee in the world that made its official debut at the Torino General Expo.
Bezzera had probably seen and reasoned above, the machine of Moriondo, so that the patent granted to him titled: “The innovations in the machinery to prepare and serve immediately drink of coffee” (Patent No. 153/94, 61707, granted 5 June 1902).
Bezzera probably guessed the potential of the machine, so much so as to be able to sell the patent to Desiderio Pavoni who, with his company “La Pavoni”, started producing the machine.
The espresso machine in itself, was a large vertical cylinder, containing a brass boiler kept under pressure by a gas burner; on the side of the boiler were installed the groups containing ground coffee (absolutely similar to those of modern machines).
Opening the tap, the boiling water passed through the coffee at a pressure of about 1.5 atmospheres obtained from the steam produced by the boiler and in a minute (well away from the handful of seconds of today) the coffee was made.
These steam coffee machines were used until 1945 when Angelo Gaggia invented and patent the lever system in 1938 but like Moriondo he used the machine for his own bar and only in 1948 the production began in an industrial way.
Since then, the evolution of the cafeteria has been continuous, passing from the machine to levers (or pistons) invented and patented by Angelo Gaggia but exploited industrially only since 1945 (first in its coffeehouse) and from 1948 commercialized on an industrial level to the machines automatic household items, now common anywhere with costs ranging from one hundred to one thousand euro, with the possibility of using ground coffee, pods and plastic capsule very practical that, alas, on the contrary, have an absurd increase of plastic in the environment.
The piston machine had absolute innovations: the possibility of preparing coffee with water at a temperature of 90° C instead of 120° C of steam coffee machines, and water pressure of about 9 bar (instead of 1,5 bar) due to the pistons that the compressed in 20-25 seconds (against the minute).
These innovations produced, in turn, two positive results: first the coffee lost that bitter taste due to exposure to high temperature for a long time, in practice, it did not burn, but the real treat was the formation of the cream on the coffee, the hallmark of the best known Italian drink and copied such as the pizza.
From the levers machine, they switch to that one where the water was put under pressure by means of a pump (making the work much less laborious) and with the pre-infusion leaving the water go in contact with the coffee powder for a few moments before the pump exerted pressure on the coffee, favouring a better extraction of the black beverage, to those with a heat exchanger to obtain great stability of temperature to pass to the double boiler machines, which allowed to prepare hundreds of coffees every day with the same high quality up to automatic machines with which you just press a button and the same grind the coffee, create the milk foam without any other intervention by the operator who just gives the cup to the customer.
The first small, very famous “moka” coffee makers for home-made coffee, were designed in 1933 by another Piedmontese, Alfonso Bialetti in Crusinallo of Omegna, founder of the homonymous Bialetti firm.
We have a coffee maker which is a hymn to Italian creativity.
“She” was designed by the entrepreneur Alfonso Bialetti in 1933 and is still on sale.
Very elegant, futurist, famous all over the world, “she” stands there, standing, in the permanent collection of the Triennale of Milan, in that of the MoMA in New York and in my kitchen.
“She” is democratic, humble and functional: as the dogma of rationalist design wanted, it costs very little.
No planned obsolescence, lasts for decades.
With that familiar whistle and that scent of coffee that envelops you every morning making you mysteriously happy, “she” belongs to that class of objects that only a fool could believe inanimate.
There is joy inside the alembic…
The tradition of “caffè sospeso” (suspended coffee) in Naples
It is well known that coffee, along with pizza, is one of the most well-known things of the Neapolitan tradition, although not many know a little legend known as “caffè sospeso”.
Between history and legend
There are many legends that tie Naples to coffee, but the only ones to be taken into consideration are those that arose after the beginning of the nineteenth century, that is, those that appear to be the first peddlers.
They wandered around Naples with two containers, one for coffee and the other for milk, advertising their products aloud in the crowd. These figures, now extinct, have played a very important role in the Neapolitan culture.
The custom of “caffè sospeso” is dated towards the beginning of the Second World War when, in difficult times and extreme poverty, people began with the custom of drinking a coffee and paying two, a cup for those who do not they could afford it and people used to make this meaningful gesture with joy.
Caffè sospeso today
Despite the falsehoods told about Naples that describe the inhabitants as scammers, profiteers if not worse, something absolutely insulting and devoid of any foundation, both the peddlers (before) and the bars (today) do not hold that money but, really, they serve many free coffee how many “caffè sospesi” are paid for them.
It is for this reason that today this tradition has spread in Italy and abroad.
In 2010, in fact, Caffè Gambrinus, on the occasion of the celebrations for 150 years of activity, wanted to take up this act of kindness, in order to bring to light one of the most important traditions of the Neapolitan culture.
Also the writer and philosopher Luciano De Crescenzo, in the book entitled, in fact, “The suspended coffee” wrote: “A Once in Naples, in the Sanità district when one was happy, because something went well, instead of paying a coffee he paid two and left the second coffee, the one already paid, for the next customer. This act was called “il caffè sospeso”. Then, occasionally, a poor man appeared to ask if there was a “hanging”. It was a way like any other to offer a coffee to humanity“.
The tradition of “caffè sospeso”, therefore, represents humanity, the incredible feeling of love, compassion, understanding and all the other positive feelings that are part of this city and that we must never forget.
When I die, you bring me a coffee and I’ll resurrect as Lazarus.