Caffe Florian

Caffe Florian. This  post combines the story of this famous establishment in St Mark’s Square; with a comprehensive history of coffee.

Situated on the ground floor of the Procuratie Nuove, in St Mark’s Square, Venice; it was established in 1720 and is the oldest coffee house in continuous operation in Italy and one of the oldest in the world.

Caffè Florian is not just a coffeehouse, but a unique experience. It’s a great place for people watching, but be warned it is expensive and there are extra charges when the small orchestra is in residence. Regard it as a treat, for it is worth visiting for its special atmosphere, history and the passionate attention to detail applied in every part of the Florian; that is a testament to its unique heritage.

The Caffe Florian offers their facilities as an ideal location for special occasions, parties and official receptions; as well as a location venue for TV, film and advertising. It also offers a range of gifts and artworks for sale, through its website.

  • Introduction of Coffee into Italy
  • History of the Caffe Florian
  • Origins and History of Coffee (Origins of the word Coffee – General History of Coffee – Main types of coffee beans commercially grown)




Caffe Florian – Venice’s famous coffeehouse


Introduction of coffee into Italy

Coffee was first cultivated in Ethiopia and later introduced to Europe, through the Ottoman Empire. In Italy, coffee arrived in the second half of the 16th century, through the commercial routes of the Mediterranean Sea.

In 1580, the Venetian botanist and physician Prospero Alpini, imported coffee into the Republic of Venice from Egypt. The demand for the beverage increased so rapidly that coffee shops started opening across the city and by 1763, Venice alone accounted for more than 200 shops. Coffee became the drink of intellectuals and social gatherings. Plates of chocolate and coffee were considered a romantic gift.

The health benefits of the miraculous drink were celebrated by many. Some representatives of the Catholic Church, opposed coffee at its first introduction in Italy; believing it to be the “Devil’s drink“; probably due to its Arabic origins. However, Pope Clement VIII declared: “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall cheat Satan by baptizing it.” His blessing; further boosted its commercial success and spread. Just like in the Islamic world, coffee appeared better for the people than alcoholic beverages or abusive substances.

Naples, albeit being known today as the “city of coffee”, was generally thought to have been introduced later, around 1614; probably through ships entering the ports of Sicily and Naples itself. The composer, explorer and musicologist Pietro Della Valle, sent news from the Holy Land to friends and acquaintances, of a drink called “kahve”; that the Arab Muslims brewed in heated pots. However, some believe coffee arrived in Naples earlier, between the 14th and 15th centuries, from Salerno and its “Schola Medica Salernitana”; where the plant was grown for its medicinal properties.

Becoming part of daily life in Naples, probably introduced through its sea-port, it was prepared with great care in the “cuccumella“; the typical Neapolitan filter coffee pot derived from the invention of the Parisian Morize, in 1819. An indication of the approach of Neapolitans to coffee as a social drink, was their practice of the “suspended coffee” – the act of paying in advance for a coffee to be consumed by the next customer.

The Moka-pot.

In Turin in 1933, Alfonso Bialetti invented the first “Moka-pot by observing the “lisciveuse”; a steam pot utilized at the time for laundry.  In 1946, his son Renato started industrial production, selling millions of moka-pots in one year, versus only 70,000 sold by his father in the previous 10; making the coffee maker (and coffee) an icon of Italy in the world.

The Moka-pot (photos below), is an aluminium stovetop espresso pot with a recognisable octagonal base and top. The base holds the water and when heated, steam pushes through a filter holding the coffee grounds; releasing espresso into the top of the pot. It only uses 1.5 bars of pressure. Nonetheless, it made a reliable, unburnt dark coffee. However, it can’t really be considered a true “expresso” coffee.


Development of the “expresso machine”.

In 1884 by Angelo Moriondo, a Turin-based inventor, designed the first iteration of the espresso machine. He thought the solution to brewing coffee faster was to have a larger output; so his machine brewed large vats of coffee, instead of small individual cups. Big and bulky, using 1.5 bars of steam-powered pressure to push water through coffee grounds, it was not designed for industrial production and never reached the market.

In 1901, Milanese inventor Luigi Bezzerra patented a smaller, single-cup version of Moriondo’s machine. It used steam and two bars of pressure, to brew espresso in less than 30 seconds. Bezzera made several user-friendly additions to Moriondo’s machine, including the portafilter, the tapered coffee ground tray with a handle attachment. Though Berezza’s machine was marketable, it produced inconsistent brews and had a hand-operated pressure valve that frequently burned baristas.

Desiderio Pavoni, helped Berezza perfect his machine. He added a pressure release valve, making brewing safer and faster for baristas and a steam wand for frothing milk. Pavoni and Bezzera’s machine was called the “Ideale”, under the brand La Pavoni. In 1906, their product was introduced to the market and with it, the term “espresso” was born.

Though steam power was efficient, it tended to give coffee a burnt taste. Patents by Francesco Illy and Achille Gaggia in the mid-1930s, helped define what good espresso should be. Illy’s patent on the “Illetta”, a machine powered by pressurised water instead of steam, would become the blueprint for future machines. Its highly pressurised process meant the espresso was pressed without excessive steam; resulting in a richer, unburnt product.

In 1938, Gaggia’s small, efficient, steam-less coffee machine took pressurisation to a new level. Where coffee had been expressed by two bars of pressure before, his machine used up to 10 bars; producing truly concentrated coffee and what is now recognised as the modern espresso. In addition, the high-pressure gave espresso its now signature crema; the naturally occurring coffee-foam that forms atop an espresso.

Gaggia’s machine led the market until 1961, when the “Faema E61” was invented. Ernesto Valente’s stainless-steel machine utilised modern technical innovations, to move the burden of espresso-making from the barista to the machine. With this device: pressure, water temperature and the amount of water flow, could be perfectly controlled for a flawless, consistent cup of espresso every time.

Further patented technologies by inventors from Moriondo to Valente, streamlined espresso machines into the efficient, reliable fixtures Italian bars are known for today.

Italians are well known for their special attention to the preparation, selection of blends and use of accessories; when creating many types of coffees. Many types of preparation known today, also have their roots here. By the mid-1900s, most baristas were able to provide a variety of coffee drinks such as  the “cappuccino”, “macchiato” and “caffè latte; by mixing espresso with different amounts of warmed or frothed milk.

Interestingly in Italy, coffee consumption is highest in the city of Trieste, with an average of 1500 cups of coffee per person per year; about twice as much as is usually drunk in Italy.

Today, the Caffe Florian in Venice, is the oldest coffee house in continuous operation in Italy and one of the oldest in the world.


History of the Caffe Florian

The Florian opened on the 29th December 1720 as “Alla Venezia Trionfante” (Venice the Triumphant), with two simply furnished rooms; but soon became known as “Caffè Florian“, after its original owner Floriano Francesconi.

The Caffè was patronised in its early days, by notable people including the playwright Carlo Goldoni, Goethe and Casanova; the latter, who was no doubt attracted by the fact that it was the only coffee house that allowed women. Later Lord Byron, Marcel Proust, and Charles Dickens were frequent visitors. It was one of the few places where Gasparo Gozzi’s early newspaper “Gazzetta Veneta” could be bought in the mid-18th century and became a meeting place for people from different social classes. In 1750, the Florian expanded to four rooms.

In 1773 Valentino, the grandson of Floriano Francesconi, took over the business at the beginning of the 18th century.

In 1796, under the shadow of the French Revolution, the Venetian state feared that the revolutionary ideas could also spread in Venice. The Florian, with its international clientele, had become a meeting place for many French Jacobins; so the State Inquisitors obliged Valentino Francesconi to close the café. When the French armies entered in Venice, in May 1797, Valentino Francesconi put down the “Venice Triumphant” sign outside the café and replaced it with one simply bearing the name of his uncle “Florian“.

In 1814, Valentino Francesconi passed the café on to his son Antonio.

By 1858, the establishment had passed into the hands of Giovanni Pardelli and Pietro Baccanello. Badly in need of restoration and redecoration, Lodovico Cadorin was commissioned to carry out the programme; which included the addition of four rooms.

The new rooms were named Sala del Senato (Senate Room), Sala Greca (Greek Room), Sala Cinese (Chinese room) and Sala Orientale (Oriental Room

Perfect presentation at the Florian. 

In the 19th century, the Florian played a role in the Italian Risorgimento, the Senate Room being the meeting point for a group of Venetian patriots. They had a key role in the Venetian Revolution of 1848, which would see Venice temporarily independent from Austria and at some point; was utilised as a temporary hospital for wounded patriots.

(Note. Risorgimento refers to the 19th-century movement for Italian unification that culminated in the establishment of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. It was an ideological and literary movement that helped to arouse the national consciousness of the Italian people and it led to a series of political events that freed the Italian states from foreign domination and united them politically.)

Further restorations occurred at the Florian in 1872 and 1891 when two other rooms were added to the café: the “Sala degli Uomini Illustri (the Hall of the Illustrious Men) and the Sala delle Stagioni (the Hall of the Seasons).

In 1920, another room was added, called the Liberty Room”.


Restoration, Redecoration and Artwork

In 1858, the café was completely restored and redecorated by Lodovico Cadorin; calling on the best artists and artisans available in Venice.

The Sala del Senato (Senate Hall) was decorated by Giacomo Casa with the paintings “The Age of Enlightenment, or Progress”, “Civilization educating the nations” and eleven panels representing Arts and Sciences. Casa inserted masonic symbols in the painting, allusion to Venice’s close connections with certain secret societies and illuminism.

Above: Sala Orientale, looking through to the Sala Cinesa

The Sala Cinese (Chinese Hall) and Sala Orientale (Oriental Hall), take their inspiration from the Far East with paintings of lovers and scantily clad exotic women, painted by Antonio Pascuti.

In 1872 another two great halls were added to the café.

The “Sala degli Uomini Illustri” (Hall of the Illustrious Men), was decorated by Giulio Carlini with paintings of ten notable Venetians: Goldoni, Marco Polo, Titian, Francesco Morosini, Pietro Orseolo, Andrea Palladio, Benedetto Marcello, Paolo Sarpi, Vettor Pisani and Enrico Dandolo.

The “Sala delle Stagioni” (Hall of the Seasons) or “Sala degli Specchi” (Hall of Mirrors), was decorated by Vincenzo Rota, with the figures of women representing the four seasons.

In 1920, during the anniversary of the café foundation, another room was added: the “Sala Liberty”. It is decorated in an art nouveau style with hand-painted mirrors and sumptuous wooden wainscoting.

From 1893, the Florian became home to the “Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte Contemporanea” (International Exhibition of Contemporary Art), an ever-changing display of work from the artists of the time, known today as the “Venice Biennale”.

Since 1988, the Florian has hosted a contemporary art exhibition that takes place every two years; in conjunction with the Biennale. The “Temporanea, the art of possible at the Caffè Florian“, invites artists to place their installations, within the Florian’s halls.

In the early 21st century, Florian branched out of Venice and opened a location on Via del Parione, in central Florence. Two modern Caffe Florian’s have opened in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.


The Florian Ochestra. In the warmer season between April to October, the Orchestra presents a variety of musical styles and tastes; performing in the tradition of the café-concert of Middle-Europe.



Origins and History of Coffee

Origins of the word Coffee.

The word originates from the Arabic word gahwar, passing through the Persian word qahve then the Ottoman Turkish word “kahve” and then through the Dutch word koffie; entering the English language as coffee, around 1582.

The Arabic word “qahwah” most likely meant ‘the dark one’, referring to the brew rather than the bean itself. There is no evidence that the word “qahwah” was named after the Ethiopian province of Kaffa.

The terms “coffee pot” and “coffee break” originated in 1705 and 1952, respectively.

Above: “Coffea Arabica” plant and berries

General History of Coffee

The exact history of the origin of Coffee plants (Coffea species) both in their wild form and subsequent domestication remains unclear, as there are no written traditional records available. In the wild, they are thought to have been native to an Ethiopian plateau region known as “Kefa” (Kaffa).

One of many legends about the discovery of coffee, is that of a goatherd named Kaldi; who was bemused by the strange excitable behaviour of his flock. Around 850 CE, Kaldi was said to have sampled the berries of the evergreen bush on which the goats were feeding and experienced a sense of exhilaration.

Kaldi told the abbot of the local monastery about this and the abbot came up with the idea of drying and boiling the berries to make a beverage. He threw the berries into the fire, whence the unmistakable aroma of what we now know as coffee drifted through the night air. The now roasted beans were raked from the embers, ground up and dissolved in hot water; making the world’s first cup of coffee. This story is not known to have appeared in writing, before Rome-based Maronite Faustus Nairon’s treatise on the potion called coffee in 1671 and some 800 years after it was supposed to have taken place; it is likely to be of doubtful authenticity.

Coffee was originally consumed in the Islamic world and was directly related to religious practices. At some point, perhaps as late as the 15th century, coffee plants were taken across the Red Sea to Yemen in southern Arabia and first placed under cultivation; most likely by Somalian merchants from Berbera and Zeila.

Sufis in Yemen, used the beverage as an aid to concentration and as a kind of spiritual intoxication when they chanted the name of God. They used it to keep themselves alert, during their nighttime devotions. Its stimulant effect undoubtedly made it popular in Arabia. Early practitioners of Islamic medicine and science, fought against the notion, that the effect of coffee was like that of hashish or alcohol and instead argued the benefits of the drink; which would stimulate the mind while protecting against the allure of alcohol and hashish. (Apparently, there were various legends that ascribed coffee’s origins to Muhammad, who, through the archangel Gabriel; “brought it to man to replace the wine which Islam forbade”).

By 1414, the plant was known in Mecca and coffeehouses or qahveh khanehs started to appear. In the early 1500’s, coffee drinking had spread to the Sultanate of Egypt and North Africa from the Yemeni port of Mocha. Associated with Sufism, many coffee houses grew up in Cairo, around the religious University of the Azhar. Coffee houses also opened in Syria, especially in the cosmopolitan city of Aleppo and then in Istanbul (Constantinople), the capital of the Turkish Ottoman Empire.

Around 1511, the more conservative Islamic authorities in Mecca, had pronounced the drink intoxicating and therefore prohibited by the Qurʾān. Despite the threat of severe penalties, coffee drinking spread rapidly among Arabs and their neighbours and even gave rise to a new social and cultural entity, the “coffeehouse”. They became popular meeting places, where men of learning often gathered to converse, play chess or backgammon-type games, sing and dance, listen to music, discuss politics and news of the day and smoke and drink. They became known as “schools of wisdom” because of the clientele they attracted. Political and religious leaders, feared the open discourse common in such establishments; however coffee drinking quickly became ingrained in daily ritual and culture, making frequent bans on coffeehouses, impossible to impose and maintain.

However, by 1524 these bans were overturned; with an order of the Ottoman Turkish Sultan Suleiman I, and the Grand Mufti issued a fatwa; allowing the beverage to be drunk.

Coffee became especially popular in Turkey and the spread of the Ottoman Empire brought the beverage to one European country after another, throughout the 16th and 17th centuries; basically in two ways.

The beverage was first introduced to Europe via Hungary, when the Turks invaded Hungary at the “Battle of Mohács”, in 1526 and within a year Vienna; by the same Turks who fought the Europeans at the “Siege of Vienna in1529”. Later in the 16th century, coffee was introduced on the island of Malta, through imprisoned Turkish Muslim slaves held by the Knights of St John in 1565; the year of the “Great Siege of Malta“. Coffee was a popular beverage in Maltese high society, with many coffee shops opening.

The second spread was by Venetian merchants; using both their sea trading and overland connections with the eastern Mediterranean and beyond. They introduced coffee-drinking to the wealthy in Venice, charging them heavily for the beverage.

Many accounts are recorded of its prohibition or approval as a religious, political and medical potion. Its association with Muslims and its novel stimulating effects, led some to urge Pope Clement VIII to forbid it in the late 1500s; but the pope famously gave it his blessing after sampling the drink for himself. Coffee spread fairly rapidly throughout Europe and by the end of the 17th century; the drink was flourishing across Britain, the British colonies in America, and nearly all of continental Europe.

Up to the end of the 17th century, the world’s limited supply of coffee was obtained almost entirely from the port of Mocca ,in the province of Yemen in southern Arabia; ran by the powerful “Dutch East India Company”. The Dutch undertook a significant plant propagation and seed collection programme; to drive their overseas interests.

(Note. Basically, the Netherlands was under threat. It had just declared its independence from Spain, in 1581, forming the Dutch Republic. Given this vulnerability, you can see the advantages of drawing wealth from outside the tiny Dutch Republic and using it to shore up the newly established country against foreign control (while, of course, controlling other countries – but we’re not talking about morality or even ideological consistency here)! The Dutch East India Company, or Vereenigde Oostindische Compagnie (VOC), founded in 1602 by the Dutch Republic (present-day Netherlands) was a company whose main purpose was trade, exploration and colonization throughout the 17th and 18th centuries. It was created in 1602 and lasted until 1799. It is considered to be one of the first and most successful international corporations. It functioned to protect the state’s trade in the Indian Ocean and to assist in the Dutch war of independence from Spain. The company prospered through most of the 17th century as the instrument of the powerful Dutch commercial empire in the East Indies (present-day Indonesia). The VOC started operating in India (Mughal India, where most of Europe’s cotton and silk originated) and South Asia in general. Over the next century, it expanded its operations to Mauritius, South Africa, Indonesia (especially Java), Taiwan, Japan, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. Not all of these locations were the sites of permanent settlements or even permanent trading posts: but listing them all here gives us a sense of how massive this company was. The VOC is considered the first modern multinational company and first made use of many of the features we associate with modern corporations: shareholders, corporate identity, legal personhood, etc. This collection of innovations meant that the VOC could mobilise wealth in a way that only monarchies could before; giving it unprecedented power.)

With the increasing popularity of the beverage, the propagation of the plant spread both to the east and west, by traders, colonists, missionaries and travellers.

Coffee production spread rapidly to Java and other islands of the Indonesian archipelago in the 17th century and to the Americas in the 18th century. Coffee cultivation was started in the Hawaiian Islands in 1825. Plantations were established in tropical forests and on rugged mountain highlands, and new nations were established on their coffee economies.

By the 19th century, coffee had become a global phenomenon.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, industrial roasting and grinding machines came into use, vacuum-sealed containers were invented for ground roasts and decaffeination methods for green coffee beans were developed. After 1950, the production of instant coffee was perfected and its popularity led to increased production of the cheaper Robusta beans in Africa.

In 2020, the top coffee-producing countries were Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia and Ethiopia. Interest in organic, fair-trade and sustainably grown coffee increased in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, leading in some places to changes in production methods; to the benefit of local producers.


Main types of coffee beans commercially grown

There are four main types of coffee beans that are currently in commercial circulation: Arabica, Robusta, Liberica, and Excelsa. (Each berry contains two beans).

Arabica (Coffea arabica) is the most commonly produced coffee bean and accounts for over 60% of the world’s coffee production. Arabica beans are grown at high altitudes, in areas that receive steady rainfall and have a plentiful amount of shade. Arabica trees are generally easy to care for as they are relatively small and easy to prune. Higher quality Arabica beans have a bright body, possess a satisfying amount of acidity and tend to have a multi-layered intricacy of flavors and aromas.

In their native habitat, coffee plants can grow into medium-sized trees, adding inches in just a few months and reaching two feet within their first year. However, growers regularly prune the plants to be a more manageable size; especially when the plants are grown indoors.

With its glossy green leaves, a compact growth habit, and ripe coffee cherries that taste sweet, fresh, and with notes of florals, makes a surprisingly good potted indoor plant. Native to Ethiopia, it will flower in the spring with small white flowers and then bear half-inch berries that gradually darken from green to almost black . Each of these fruits contains two seeds, which are dried and ready for roasting.

Robusta (Coffea caniphora) comes second to Arabica as the world’s most produced coffee. Its name is no coincidence. The Robusta varietal is extremely tolerant of its environment and practically immune to disease. Robusta coffee can withstand various altitudes, but particularly requires a hot climate, where rainfall is irregular. Robusta coffee beans have almost double the amount of caffeine, compared to Arabica beans.

Liberica (Coffea liberica) and Excelsa (Coffea excelsa or Coffea liberica var. dewevrei), are less common types of coffee beans.


LINKS (externalinternal)

Caffè Florian

Caffe Florian – Piazza San Marco, 57 30124 Venezia (VE), Italy    Tel: +39 041 520 56 41

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