Coffee didn’t arrive in Italy until the 16th century, brought to Venice from the Ottoman Empire. As usual, there were disapproving local priests, who denounced the stimulating new taste sensation as ‘from the devil’. They called on Pope Clement VIII to ban it.
The online Italian newspaper, The Local, takes up the story : “But, the legend goes, the pope decided to give the drink a try before delivering his judgement; and after a few sips, he proclaimed, ‘This Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it.’ He gave the drink his blessing – but not before baptising the beans, just to be safe.”
The consequence was that coffeehouses started opening in Venice in the late 17th century by the mid-1700s there were more than 200 of them, often frequented by the artistic set, who found that coffee stimulated their endeavours as well as improving their social life. But, says the Local: “it wasn’t until the late 19th century that a series of Italian inventors started devising the innovations that led to Italy gaining its current reputation as Europe’s custodian of coffee.”
First off, they speeded up the production process by forcing steam at pressure through the ground coffee. “The first effort at something approaching an espresso (literally, ‘pressed out’) machine was presented by Angelo Moriondo at the Turin General Exposition in 1884, where it won a bronze medal – but the device was somewhat impractical in its design, and was never produced commercially.” By the early 20th century improved steam-based espresso machines were being sold commercially.
But the key moment came in a 1938 invention by Achille Gaggia, whose machine which did away with the steam (which could give the coffee a burnt flavour), and replaced it with hot water forced through the coffee grounds at very high pressure.
And if you wanted good-tasting coffee, a casa, says The Local: “ One Alfonso Bialetti came out with his stovetop Moka caffettiera in 1933, which allowed ordinary Italians to make something not unlike espresso coffee in the comfort of their own homes.”
You can read the whole story about the importance of coffee in Italy in The Local by clicking here.
The rest, as they say, is history, as Italy established itself as the coffee-capital of the world. Now the Italian government, after a couple of false starts, is applying for UNESCO Heritage recognition of the Italian espresso coffee tradition.
UNESCO recognition is a two-edged sword: the UNESCO Heritage Site appellation has helped to swell tourism places like Venice and Florence to totally unacceptable numbers, so you can hardly see the sights for the crowds. But that’s another story, but that we may chat about over an espresso during one of the Watermill’s world-renowned creative courses this year, perhaps on the sunny terrace besides the bubbling river…
When better to chat than on our unique Italian language week this October. We stilll have some places (and a small espresso-making machine).
14 – 21 October 2023 — still places
Learning Italian with the Italians
To learn more about Giulia and her 2023 course, please click here
We would love to welcome you here for an unforgettable week of inspiring teaching, warm hospitality, beautifully restored accommodation, delicious food and wine, spectacular settings and the convivial company of like-minded people.Below are the courses on which at the moment we still have availability. Other courses are fully booked, although there may be cancellations and if you would like to come on one of these, we will put on a waiting list. You can see the whole list by clicking here.
Maggie Renner Hellmann
24 June – 1 July 2023 – one place available
Oil and watercolour (acrylic, pastel)
To learn more about Maggie and her course at the mill, please visit her 2023 Tutor Profile Page.
1 – 8 July 2023 – still some places
Painting en plein air (oil, acrylic, watercolour, pastel)
To learn more about Fiona and her course at the mill, please visit her 2023 Tutor Profile Page.
8 – 15 July 2023 – still some places
To learn more about Belinda and her course at the mill, please visit her 2023 Tutor Profile Page.
26 August – 2 September 2023 – still some places
Pastels (and other portable media) en plein air
To learn more about Mary and her course at the mill, please visit her 2023 Tutor Profile Page.
9 – 16 September 2023 – one or two places available
Watercolours and drawing (also gouache and acrylics)
To learn more about Mike and his course at the mill, please visit his 2023 Tutor Profile Page.
23 – 30 September 2023 – one or two places available
Watercolours (acrylics and oils)
To learn more about Charles and his course at the mill, please visit his 2023 Tutor Profile Page
Our wonderful knitting weeks:
29 April – 6 May 2023 – Still some places
6 – 13 May 2023 – one place available
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about Georgia and her course at the mill, please visit our 2023 Tutor Profile Page.
Watermill Knitting Retreat
15 – 22 July 2023 – two or three places left
Knitting and La Bella Vita
To learn more about the Watermill Knitting Retreat at the mill, please visit our 2023 Retreat Page.