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Prospero Alpini and the discovery of coffee in Europe

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Prospero Alpini and the discovery of coffee in Europe

Everyone knows about coffee, the energizing and hearty drink consumed by millions of people every day! We Italians are great coffee drinkers, just think that as many as 96.5% of people between the ages of 18 and 65 consume it at least occasionally.

But how did the precious coffee beans arrive in the western world and especially in Italy?

Coffee arrived in Europe in the mid-sixteenth century but made its first appearance in Venice around 1570. The merit of having introduced it in Italy lies with the Paduan doctor and botanist Prospero Alpini who learnt about the drink during a trip to Egypt as personal doctor to the consul George Emo, dispatched to Cairo by the Venetian Republic. Prospero Alpini lived in Egypt for about three years, during which he studied the flora and fauna of the country taking note of the therapeutic uses of the various species present in the country. Between 1591 and 1592 he wrote two treatises dedicated to Egyptian medicine and plants: he was the first European to make an accurate description of the plant and to depict it in a botanical table.

During his stay he also observed how the Egyptians roasted coffee seeds and how they made a drink that they drank instead of wine. Once back in Venice he spread his knowledge: Venetians were therefore the first to appreciate this new drink! Initially coffee was sold in pharmacies at a very high cost, so only the rich could afford the luxury of buying it. In 1630 the first 'coffee shop' was opened right in St Mark’s Square and, in 1720, under the Procuratie Nuove, Caffè Florian was opened... The success was such that in the mid-eighteenth century there were already over 220 coffee houses in the city!

In a short time, coffee became the protagonist of the social and intellectual life, but also a sign of friendship and love: for a certain period, it even became a habit, among suitors and lovers, to send trays filled with chocolate and coffee to their women!

From Venice, coffee use rapidly spread in Italy and Europe, despite the adverse opinion of some members of the Church who incited Pope Clement VIII to ban the "drink of the devil" amongst worshipers. However, the Pope, after tasting a cup of it, was not against its use and, thanks to his approval and blessing, coffee was acclaimed as an intellectual drink, enhancing not only its taste but also its healing properties!

So, if you are planning a trip to Venice, between one visit and another, take a few minutes to enjoy some good coffee in an old coffee house ... Energy and good mood are guarantee

By Insidecom Editorial Staff

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