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Jonathan's Coffeeblog: Cappuccino

10:55 PM Sunday, June 8, 2008

[One-third espresso, one-third milk, and...]


The other day I received an alarming notice from the California State Bureau of Coffeeblogging. They were concerned that I had not posted a coffee-related item to Jonathan's Coffeeblog since August of 2007. Had I not posted a cafe-related item in January of 2008, my Coffeeblogging license would already have been revoked. I was in deep trouble, and there was only one way out of the mess: post something to Jonathan's Coffeeblog having to do with coffee, and post it fast. And so, here it is: the subject of today's Coffeeblog post is cappuccino.

Now we on the Internet are all sophisticated people, men and women of the world, right? So we all know what cappuccino is: a form of serving coffee which consists of one-third espresso, one-third milk, and one-third microfoam. And we all know that a cappuccino is savored best in a ceramic cup, yea, a cappuccino cup, although in the busy lives we lead we may have had to dash off with our cappuccino served in plastic, styrofoamed plastic, or paper. And some of the most sophisticated among us know that cappuccino was named after a member of an order of Roman Catholic monks who wear hooded garments. Ah, but why was cappuccino the drink named after i cappuccini, the monks? Excellent question. One which I would happily answer here and now had I been able to find the answer on the Internet. There are several theories about the connection but none which is completely convincing. Here they are:

1. The color theory. The Capuchins (formally named the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin) wear brown hooded robes. A cappuccino in its ceramic cup is brown in color. The problem with this theory is that a cappuccino is not brown. It is primarily white. It is the coffee below the foam and milk that is brown. OK, OK if you stir it up, it turns brown. Plus, there are practitioners of "latte art" who use espresso to create images on top of the microfoam, which are various tints of brown. And there are the folks who decorate their coffee drinks with cocoa powder. So: there may be something to this theory after all.

2. The hood theory. There is an Italian word, cappuccio, which means a hood. "Little Red Riding Hood" in Italian is called "Cappucetto Rosso." The Capuchin order or friars was named for the hoods of their robes. (In French, by the way, the same hood is called a "chaperon." Go figure.) According to this theory, a cappuccino is a coffee drink hooded with microfoamed milk. Bolstering this theory, the Capuchin monkey of Central America was named for its white and brown hood of hair, resembling a friar whose hood was pulled tight around his face.

3. The Brother Mark of Aviano theory. Most intriguing. Brother Mark was an adventurous young man from Aviano, a town near Venice, who traveled to Crete to fight on the side of Venice against the Ottoman Turks. He later joined the Capuchin order, and eventually became a counselor to an Austrian emperor and a Papal Legate. When the Turks besieged Vienna the Pope sent Brother Mark to organize the quarreling Catholic armies, and in 1683 the Ottoman siege was defeated. At that time the Turkish army had coffee, which had not been introduced into Western Europe. One consequence of the Turkish defeat was beginning of the Viennese coffeehouse culture with the famous "Blue Bottle." The theory asserts that the Capuchin monk Brother Mark made possible Western Europe's coffeehouse culture, within which a drink was named after the hooded habit of his order. That may be questionable, but even more questionable is the rumor that Brother Mark actually invented the drink cappuccino.

Whatever the origin of its name, the cappuccino as a drink is said to be consumed in Italian coffee bars only for breakfast, whereas I enjoy it later in the day when I'm on my laptop. The milk buffers the acidity of the coffee, which, consumed black, has been known to irritate my coffeeblogger's stomach. And, sadly, it is so hard to find a good espresso in the USA that the steamed milk and foam can mask the bitterness of an overextracted pull.

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