Early History of Flavoring Cappuccino – 1890 Italy – 1969 USA

The early history of our story has it’s beginnings in a municipality of Northern Italy known as Bellagio. Bellagio is actually a coined name; a contraction of the two Italian words BELLA and LAGO, or more grammatically correct, LAGO BELLA, which translated, means “Beautiful Lake”. Bellagio is a favorite vacation spot for international tourists and has been for many centuries. It’s particular location on Lake Como affords it both a magnificent view of the lake as well as one of the splendorous Swiss Alps to its north.

19th century travelers to Bellagio would find In the narrow winding streets of the commercial district, a delightful variety of little ristorantes and shops; all holding the promise of discovering the perfect Italian memento and the anticipated experience of delectable Italian cuisine.

One of those prized ristorantes was a combination Inn and restaurant and known mainly by seasoned, regular visitors to Bellagio, It was owned and managed by one Madelena Morisi.

Now, Madelena’s Ristorante Varese, was celebrated for it’s Northern Italian style cooking that featured such dishes as Risotto, Polenta with chicken cacciatorre in sauce, Gnocchi, Tortellini in brodo and other pastas served in Marinara or Bolognese sauces.

However, patrons of the restaurant, upon returning home, would invariably wax poetic about the specialty coffee dessert “Caffe D’Amore con Un Bacio” (The Coffee of Love (with a Kiss.”) that Madelena prepared in the following manner: Starting with her freshly brewed, full-bodied coffee, she stirred in melted Belgian dark chocolate. and then, would lace the beverage with 2 or 3 liqueurs. She then finished with a topping of freshly whipped cream.

It is of particular interest,to learn that Madelena’s novel coffee dessert, was considered an act of heresy by traditional Italian coffee standards of the day. Coffee, or Capuccio (kah-poo-cho) as it was then, and remains today, something that is treated with reverence. It is a source of national pride in Italy. This was the Italy of years before the proliferation of the post-war espresso machines. In those years, the recently-formed “united nation” which now was made up of former competing city states that often in history, had fought each other in war. Coffee then, was made on a coffee maker, that held a vertical boiler . This massive unit was designed with the panache of typical Italian fashion, looking like a work of art, with it’s elegant design, giving it the appearance of something deserving exhibition in a museum.

The biggest problem that this system posed, was the length of time it took to make the coffee. This led to lost work time in the business world, with workers standing by, cup in hand, for the machine to deliver their coffee.

In 1925, Madelena abruptly made the decision to close her prized ristorante Varese. Hearing about the wonderful business opportunities that lay across the ocean in America, she decided, along with her two teen-age daughters, to migrate to the USA. Her husband, Lazzaro Morisi, had gone off to war in 1917, joining in the bloody trench warfare being fought in World War I. At the war’s termination in 1918, as stated in the words of the song, “How you gonna keep him down on the farm, after he’s seen Paree?” He not only could not be kept down in that farm, he never came back from Paree!

Arriving in America in late 1925, Madelena settled with her brood in Boston, Massachusetts. There, she opened the first Cavanna Restaurant (using her maiden name, Cavanna). Thirteen years later, in 1939, she sold this restaurant and opened a second Cavanna Restaurant in Revere Beach, Massachusetts. That restaurant was sold in 1947, taking advantage of the boom that followed the end of World War II.

Simultaneously with the Revere Beach sale, Madelena purchased her third and last restaurant, w located in Durham, Connecticut. In all three of her American restaurants she had successfully served her celebrated coffee dessert, which was featured as a specialty coffee from Italy and with an added descriptive note: “The Kissing Cousin to Cappuccino.”

By the 1960’s, the new, advanced espresso machines began appearing in a number of authentic Italian restaurants with bars. Many of the sleekly designed units sported gleaming, gaudy copper structures at the top of the units, giving them more attention-getting glances from the patrons. While in Italy, cappuccino and lattes continued to be served in their “natural state”, that is, with no adding of flavoring or spirits, in the USA, where the acquired taste for a classic cappuccino had not yet developed in a major fashion, restaurants, upon buying the expensive espresso units, made the business decisions to add more profit to this classic beverage and a number of spirit added versions began to appear.

Interestingly though, when the first Peets appeared in Seattle in 1966, it was as a retail coffee store and not a coffee bar. Alfred Peet, who had come from Holland, was primarily a roaster who believed in roasting in a dark fashion and even to this day, where it has followed in a fashion similar to Starbucks, it still remains more of a retail operation, than a coffee bar type of store like Starbucks, which started out, with it’s three original owners, as a store that bought it’s beans from Peets.

Earlier in time as the original Starbucks, in 1963 there appeared a retail coffee shop by the name of Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. This operation was created by Herbert and Mona Hyman and opened in Brentwood California. A second shop was stated a few years later in Beverly Hills and around the beginning of 1970’s a third shop opened in Pasadena California.

Now the importance of noting these three coffee operations, Peets, Starbucks and Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf is that none of these shops were basic coffee bars. They were operated as outlets for their roasting expertise and two separate events, happening hundreds of miles apart, would influence and lead these early pioneering forces in the world of coffee to change their business models and their ultimate goals. And in the process, would be principally responsible for the creation of the specialty coffee world that we live in today.

In 1981, Howard Schultz came all the way from New York to take a look at Starbucks. His interest had been peaked by the amount of coffee brewing machines of the company he worked for, Starbucks had been purchasing. He was determined to be a part of this exciting business and it’s location, Seattle. Eventually, his persistence to become a part of the business was rewarded by his being hired as Marketing Director and Operations Director.

On a trip to Italy, buying interesting retail items for the Starbucks two stores, Shultz came back having become convinced that what the business should provide was more of a gathering place for people to come and drink coffee and socialize. The owners of Starbucks were not convinced so Schultz set out on his own to create his dream. His former employers, did invest in his enterprise. Schultz managed to create a few stores of a chain he called “Il Giornale”, but he came back to the Starbucks owners, felling that he must buy the magical name and logo of Starbucks.

He eventually prevailed and by the late 1980’s he had bought the Starbucks operation and began hiring and training the personnel who would lead the invasion we now know as the The Starbucks Empire. One of the early acquisitions that Shultz made, was a chain operation, “Coffee Connection” in Boston, Massachusetts. Coffee Connection had a drink concept that they called “Frappuccino” and had registered ownership of the name This name consists of a combination of the word for a milkshake drink, Frappe , called “Frap” in the eastern parts of Massachusetts, along with the Italian coffee name, cappuccino.

In the meantime, as a fortuitous coincidence, an adjacent shop to the Pasadena Coffee Bean operation, a European Delicatessen named Stottlemyers European Delicatessen, introduced an instant flavored coffee beverage, formulated and developed by the shop’s owner, Eva Stiles Comi. Eva initially designed her mix to be served hot, but shortly after, and because of the immediate success of it, she designed a blender prepared version of the coffee with added ice cream. She gave the frappe beverage the name “Frappeccino.”

Herb Hyman, owner of The Coffee Bean, was introduced to and became friends with Eva through an introduction by the young manager of his Coffee Bean store and he became a frequent visitor to the deli, where he often would order the Frappeccino drink.

By 1986, any of the new Coffee Bean Shops that opened had all converted to being coffee bar operations with a full coffee menu including a new “Ice Blended” mocha and vanilla frappe pair of beverages. Coincidentally, In the north, all new Starbucks operations also had become coffee bar concepts with their coffees, cappuccinos and the now world famous “Frappuccinos”.

Thus is the abbreviated history of how the life style of coffee has so dramatically changed not only in the United States, but around the world. And where once, a very Italian way of preparing coffee, primarily found in Italy and the adjacent European countries today, is predominant, not only in American, but nearly throughout the world.

Source by Paul Comi

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