Milk steamed to a fluffy foam on top of a shot of strong espresso, topped with chocolate or cinnamon, and paired with a croissant. This meal describes a typical breakfast in Italy and other parts of Europe, with the coffee of choice we know quite well. The cappuccino has been an incredibly popular hot drink in America for some time, hence National Cappuccino Day on Nov. 8. But how did this European delicacy become so desirable?
The first cappuccino-style beverage was believed to be invented in the 17th century by a Capuchin monk, a sect of Dominican friars based in Austria and Italy. The monk, Marco D’Aviano, reportedly made it in 1683 after the Battle of Vienna. Though this origin story is unverified, historians agree the drink originated from Catholic monasteries. Vienna, Austria, would become the home city for the earliest versions.
By 1805, the earliest form of the modern cappuccino was popular in the Austrian capital. Known as “kapunizer,” it included coffee with cream and sugar.
The name would later come from the description of the Capuchin friars’ hooded robes that were deep brown, called “cappuccini.”
Cappuccinos wouldn’t become a readily available coffee drink until the turn of the 20th century. In 1901, Italian inventor Luigi Bezzera unveiled his espresso machine. It made the potent brew and frothed milk much more accessible, but the prototype for the first machine was not intuitive. Only a handful of restaurants could operate the bulky device.
Nevertheless, the 1930s saw a different recipe become popular. Milk foam, whipped cream, sugar, espresso, and cinnamon would become the go-to ingredients for the first edition of the modern cappuccino.
After World War II, the espresso machine got a makeover, making it more portable and easier to use. It, coupled with coffee culture’s boom across postwar Europe, caused a massive uptick in popularity. When milk frothers became an attachment found on most machines in the 1950s, the modern cappuccino with milk, foam, and espresso emerged.
It wouldn’t be until the 1990s that cappuccinos really began to break into American society. A rise in craft coffeehouses in the U.S. saw more adoption of European-style espresso drinks.
You can also give Starbucks partial credit for popularizing the European staple. The Seattle-based chain brought it to all corners of the country, especially as its business model focused heavily on espresso drinks sales. As coffee became trendier, so did the public’s desire for new brews. Now in 2022, you’d be hard-pressed to find a shop that doesn’t make cappuccinos.
Culturally, differences arise between when Americans and Europeans enjoy the frothy beverage. In Italy, cappuccinos are typically enjoyed at breakfast, paired with a croissant as a complimentary pastry. However, in America, they are more of an after-dinner drink. Most restaurants offer coffee with dessert, and cappuccinos are usually on the menu.
That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy one at any time. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try making your own at home this Nov. 8. You’ll need an espresso dispenser and milk frother, which can be pricey, but plenty of options are available. When making a cappuccino, remember that it must be equal parts milk, foam, and coffee. Always use cold milk, and make sure the espresso comes from high-quality beans for a richer flavor.