The other day, after reading yet another "definition of the cappuccino" post out here in electric coffee land, I decided to go looking for pictures of these famous Capuchin monks we all know so well. I've heard a number of different references to their robes (or hats) and the appearance of a cappuccino, and decided that I probably should at least know what these guys look like. Google wasn't much help, and since that's the extent of my research skill these days (ahhh... musty college library stacks, how I miss thee) I figured I'd pose a challenge to the group:

1. Answer this question: What is the relationship between these monks' clothes and our favorite beverage? Is it the color of the robe? the shape of the hat? the combination of colors? the folds of the robes? something else?
2. Post a photo (or link to a photo) of one of these monks (preferably full-color) that supports your claim. OR, I guess if you've actually met one of these mythical beings and seen the connection firsthand, please describe the garment in detail and be prepared to justify your dereliction of iPhone camera duties.

Not to be an ass, but please only post if you are prepared to respond to both halves of the question. We all know the stories your trainer told you on your first day. Lets see if we can dig deeper than that and learn something together.

(Yeah, pics of this guy don't count... )

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Capuchin monk ey?

  • The capuchin monks wear robes that are totally brown: there's no white.
  • The Order chose these particular robes with that particular brown colour and a pointed  hood, as this was the way Franciscus di Assisi (San Francisco) was dressed (the monks decided to build their order upon His ideals); the inspiration was the particular preserved robe you still see on display in the crypt in the Monastary in Assisi (millions see it every year).
  • By the end of the 18th Century, the Order had monestaries in most european larger cities.
  • The monks got the name because of the hood, which is long and pointed.
  • But already by the 17th Century the term 'capuchin' was referring to the destinctive red-brown colour .
  • The first usage of 'capuchin' on coffee is from Austria, in 1853, in Vienna on coffee menues in the large Cafés, described as "Kapuziner", which at the time was a cup of dark coffee with a little cold cream, to give that capuchin colour. (Cream was luxury). No 'cap' of whipped cream, just liquid cream poured into the coffee; white china, capuchin-coloured beverage.
  • The Austrian Empire spread the viennese coffee culture to most large european cities; the large coffee machines produced from the 1860's brewed some kind of filtered coffee, and the beverage was enhanced with flavors like honey, alcohol and cream; whipped cream on top soon being the new craze, such coffees soon being known outside Vienna as 'Café Viennois'.
  • Italy was late in discovering the "Kapuziner"; (northern Italy though, actually belonged to Austria until WW1, and the term 'kapuziner' is known from Trieste's viennese coffee houses.) The word 'cappuccino' is by 1900 not yet known in Roma, Milano, Firence, OR mentioned in the italian language at all.
  • By 1910, espresso was still pretty unknown in the coffee scene, and the coffee machines could not yet steam or heat milk.
  • The oldest usage of the word 'cappuccino' in italian language seems to date from the late 1930's or between 1945-50. The oldest photos of cappuccino shows it with whipped cream in Italy
  • The 'kapuziner' is still on coffee menues in Austria and parts of Germany, alongside other old classics like 'franziskaner' (another order of monks: this one with more milk, as their robes are more grey), 'phariseer' with alcohol and whipped cream, the origin of 'Irish Coffee'.
  • The first time 'cappuccino' is mentioned in english language, is in the 1950's.
  • An authentic cappuccino would surely be the austrian original. You would need a 19th century Kaffeehaus coffee cup, the viennese coffee blends of the 1850's, course grind, 6 minute extraction, and cream from happy alpine cows (the climate in the 1850's was pretty cold, and the cattle didn't give rich milk, so a low fat cream would probably make sense). The setting would be pretty classy, though: viennese waltzes, famous authors and composers at the tables next to you. And cakes that makes the cookies crumble.
  • Next year's WBC is in Vienna.
  • When talking about cappuccino: it is important to remember it is originally a colour, not a 'cap' of foam.
  • :)

Thank you, John, for an outstanding and thorough post on the matter. This is certainly vary enlightening... and I'm amused by the notion that a traditional Italian cappuccino might be a milkier variation on the original drink.


You've listed several dates here. Any chance you'd be able to attribute those dates to published or other primary sources?


The one I'm most interested in is this one:

"...The first usage of 'capuchin' on coffee is from Austria, in 1853, in Vienna on coffee menues in the large Cafés..."


Thanks again for an outstanding contribution to this discussion.

That's awesome. (Seriously). I like the last part, which really embodies the spirit of espresso making with respect to tone, meaning, and such.
I was just thinking about this thread, thanks for adding all this info and reviving it John!
Yeah, this thread doesn't seem to die to easily.

Dustin DeMers said:
I was just thinking about this thread, thanks for adding all this info and reviving it John!

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