While coffee has been known in the Muslim East since remote times, it was first introduced in the West in the seventeenth century, when Prospero botanist and physician, brought back to Venice some sacks of coffee that he had acquired during a trip in the East.
The first Venetian coffee house opened in 1640, and shortly thereafter the word “cafe'” became synonymous, in all of Italy, with both the beverage and the place where it was served.
In 1763, there were as many as 218 coffee houses in Venice. Coffee, considered to be a token of love and friendship, had become extremely popular. Venetian lovers would send trays full of chocolates and coffee to their beloved ones as proof of their love and affection.
But in Italy as elsewhere, coffee hasn’t had an entirely easy life. In the beginning, its popularity alarmed the Catholic Church. Some of its more fanatical members claimed that it was the “beverage of Satan” and urged Pope Clement VIII to ban its consumption by the believers. The Pope, however, decided to taste a cup of coffee himself and soon came to the conclusion that there was no harm in drinking it. Needless to say, the pontiff’s approval opened the doors to future successes.
In the eighteenth century, coffee became known as the “beverage of the intellectuals.” Men of culture, in fact, were not only convinced that coffee was a refreshing beverage, but they also argued that it could cure almost any illness.
The “Cafe'” is also the name of the place where coffee, but not only coffee, is served, and there are historic Cafes in all Italian cities.
“What news from the cafes today?” King Vittorio Emanuele II would often ask his counselors when he wanted the low-down on the political situation. If we’re going to be honest, a chapter of Italian history was actually written in Turin cafes. Cavour was a patron of Caffe Fiorio, but Massimo D’Azeglio, Giolitti and Einaudi preferred Baratti&Milano.
De Gasperi used to wind down at Caffe Torino. Alexandre Dumas was a habitue’ of Bicerin (the “snifter”), Guido Gozzano liked the Art Nouveau rooms in Mulassano, but Platti was Cesare Pavese’s favorite.
Things haven’t changed much and the historic cafes are the heart and soul of Turin tradition and culture: a safe bet for tasting some special subalpine pastries in oh-so-chic style.