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The Coffee



The word 'coffee' derives from the Turkish 'kahveh', which in turn derives from the Arabic word 'qahwah'; the latter, in the classical Arabic language, indicated a beverage (exciting and often likened to wine) produced by the pressing of some seeds.

The history of coffee involves the Old and New Worlds, crosses continents, and is rooted in the culture of many people: coffee has a universal and at the same time particular dimension, it is common to many, and everyone - or almost everyone - has made it their own.

It is not known who discovered coffee and when. Among the various Arab and Ethiopian legends, the best known is that of the 'Dancing Goats', although the Neo-Persian legend about Mohammed is also widespread.

Legend of Kaldi


According to the legend, one afternoon the goats did not respond to shepherd Kaldi's call, so he went looking for them. Kaldi came across an unusual scene: the goats were dancing on their hind legs and bleating excitedly. The shepherd was convinced that they were under the effect of some spell. As he watched them, however, he noticed that they were eating the shiny green leaves and red berries of a tree he had never seen.

He decided to taste those berries himself: Kaldi began to hop. Following the discovery, Kaldi set off to take the mysterious fruit to the monastery of Chehodet, in Yemen: he met the local holy man who considered the red berries to be the work of the Devil, so he threw them into the fire. An enticing and unique aroma was released.

The incredible aroma aroused the curiosity of the two men who picked up the beans, crushed them, and immersed them in a vessel filled with hot water: it was the world's first cup of coffee.

Neo-persian legend


According to the Neo-Persian legend, the Prophet Mohammed severely suffered from the 'sleeping sickness'. For this reason, the Almighty told the Archangel Gabriel to bring an unknown drink to save the Prophet. This was as black as the Kaaba, the meteoric stone that is still worshipped in Mecca today: the name of the hot, liquid elixir, which tasted bitter and dry, was 'Kaweh'. 

Coffee certainly brought with it a power unknown to the ancients; at the time, the inebriation from grape juice (and its derivatives) was known, but the existence of this beverage was not. At that time, coffee was referred to as the 'Wine of Islam'.

History of coffee


Around the 10th/11th century, Arab traders brought coffee to the Arabian Peninsula, in the area of the present-day Yemen, in a harbour called Mocha. Thanks to the trade, coffee travelled up the Arabian Peninsula and entered the Middle East: here it was noticed by the Venetians, who had relations with the Ottoman sultan.

Venice became the coffee's gateway to Europe thanks to its diplomatic relations with the Ottoman Empire and its tolerance towards the 'other' and the 'different'. The first two cafés were opened in Constantinople in 1554. The city was invaded by these new places of consumption, the 'qahveh khaneh', defined as 'schools of wisdom'.

Between the 16th and 17th centuries, coffee powder began to be imported: it was considered to be an excellent medicine and was therefore sold in apothecary shops: at the time, it was very expensive and its use was limited. The history of coffee in the Old Continent is marked by the prohibition of Sultan Murad III and the siege of Vienna.

The troops of the Polish Prince Iansobienzki and the Duke of Lorraine scared the Ottomans away in September 1683. By fleeing, the Turks abandoned sacks full of black grains: most were unaware of what they were, except for those men who lived as much in the West as in the East.

It was a Pole, Franz Georg Kolschitzky, who - having lived in the East - explained what it was and opened a café in Vienna.

The Kolschitzky enterprise


In 1683, the Ottoman Grand Vizier urged the Sultan to declare war on the Germans: thus began the siege of Vienna. Franz Georg Kolschitzky gave the Viennese the courage to defend the city until the allies arrived.

He disguised himself as a Turk and left the city together with his servant: they had to deliver a letter to the Duke of Lorraine. On the way they were met by an Aga, who offered them abundant kaweh. Shortly afterwards, the Turks were stormed and fled. The victors found an enormous booty on the field, including five hundred sacks full of 'a black fodder'.

Unaware, they began to burn that black fodder, which released a pleasant smell. As soon as the aroma wafted, Kolschitzky remembered the drink he had drunk from the Aga: he recognised coffee.

The first cafes


The first European cafés were already born in the middle of the 17th century, thus well before the siege of Vienna. However, the spread of 'the new drink' in the Old Continent did not go unchallenged. The fact that the 'Arabian wine' came from the Islamic East and arrived via the Ottoman Empire contributed to religious and cultural prejudices, as well as false myths.

Coffee, likened to an infernal beverage, became a reason for ostracism in conservative and traditionalist circles: it was seen as a danger to the ancestral traditions and values. This cultural clash reached its epilogue when the Pope was asked to excommunicate coffee and all those who would use it.

Having tasted the drink, the Pontiff declared its taste licit, favouring its spread. Then, the first coffee shops were opened in Italy, in England, in Paris, and then in Berlin.  

Coffee stories


In Europe, coffee became known thanks to the accounts of Christian travellers returning from the East. In these writings, travellers told of the plant that was as unknown as extraordinary. The first 'medical' description of coffee printed in Europe was written by the Augsburg physician Leonhard Rauwolf.
In his work, 'Journey to the Levant', he gives an insight into how this beverage was consumed in those distant lands. He describes it as a dark, ink-black drink, healthy for digestive disorders. Later, he describes the consumption habits: 'they drink it early in the morning, in public places, without shame'.

After him, the Paduan botanist and physician Prospero Alpini described the extraordinary beauty of the flowers and leaves of the 'arbor bon' and described, for the first time in detail, the therapeutic properties of the 'fructus sua boni'. In his work, De Plantis Aegypti, Prospero Alpini described the coffee plant and the use of the roasted seeds to prepare a decoction called 'caova'.

The coffee shop: a place for political and erotic encounters

For centuries, coffee was solely understood as a beverage. However, from the 17th century onwards its status evolved due to the increasing importance acquired within the European society. The café became a meeting place, a space for conversation and cultural ferment.

Before cafés, people used to gather in printers' workshops or at booksellers' to discuss.

The arrival of cafés brought a change in this habit: they attracted those who were willing to drink the beverage and take part in the conversation. Cafés were distinguished from other 'places of discussion' by one element: inside, customers were provided with newspapers and magazines.

This detail substantially influenced the spread of the practice of exchanging ideas within cafés. Cafés became 'containers of news, the only media centres accessible to large crowds'.

The espresso: italian flag

There is a deep connection between Futurism, technology, and coffee. The first 'ideal' espresso machine was invented in 1905 by Pavoni and Bezzera. Thanks to this invention, espresso became the Italian flag. Espresso machines started to appear everywhere: in bars and restaurants, especially those defined as 'American'. 'American bars' were frequented by the bourgeoisie and for it represented spaces to socialise: here people began to drink coffee standing up. 

It was a revolution, because until then coffee had always been served at the table. The act of drinking while standing was akin to the concept of speed dear to the Futurists: a fast life associated with an energetic drink. The link between coffee and Futurism finds significant expression in the origin of the word 'espresso'. 

The term 'espresso' comes from the English 'express', which in turn derives from the French word 'exprès', meaning 'made to order'. 



History of Coffee in Verona


In the 19th century coffee consumption was reserved to the wealthy classes. Coffee was retailed in grocer’s shops together with other 'colonial' goods and was sold mostly raw, as roasting was mainly done at home.

In the 1950s, coffee consumption gradually increased and the product was sold in grocer’s shops and dispensed in the cups of the increasingly numerous public establishments



In the 1950s, there were three roasting companies in Verona: Nadali, Pellini, and Giamaica. Starting in the 1960s, at the same time as coffee consumption became more widespread, roasting industries developed on a regional and national scale. The marketing of coffee for domestic use - ground and packaged - in supermarkets dates back to this period.


Caffè Mazzanti

Caffè Mazzanti stands where once were the Mazzanti family's apothecary shops. Coffee is the fil rouge of the commercial and historical evolution of this place. Coffee arrived thanks to the Serenissima and at first was sold in the apothecary shops, as it was considered an excellent medicine. 




The evolution in the use of this plant is marked by the continuous cultural exchange between the East and the West: the latter learned from the Arab world how to use those unknown black beans with their surprising aroma.