Forgive me Father, for drinking skimmed

ROME - Its foamy topping enjoys international acclaim. Popular coffee franchises have built their empires on its rich layers of espresso and milk. For many, it’s the magical antidote to the sleepy hex of an early day. Everyone knows about the cappuccino.

 Whether its velvety crown boasts low-fat, full-fat, or soy milk, this morning beverage reigns supreme in the fragrant kingdom of caffeine. However, the ubiquitous to-go cup, and bustling pace of metropolitan cities, do little to represent the cappuccino’s long, and even holy, origins.

 As the patron saint of animals and nature-lovers, St. Francis of Assisi may not be the first person associated with a great cup of java. The 12th century Italian friar led a life of poverty, and devotion to Christianity. His riches-to-rags story was, and still is, an inspiration to many, including the Capuchin Friars. The 16th century offshoots dedicated their lives to the teachings of the saint, which they felt had lost importance through time. From the bars (or cafès)of Italy, to coffee houses the world over, numerous legends attribute the creation of the cappuccino to this religious order.

 Even though the first cappuccino wasn’t officially patented until the early 20th century, factual evidence pales in the face of a good tale. Some storytellers are content with comparing the drink’s mahogany and pearl rings to the characteristic habits worn by the Capuchins; the friars shave their heads, and cloak themselves in a brown cowl. In fact, cappuccio translates into “hood”. The diminutive cappuccino lends itself to “little hood”, and may have been inspired by the religious order’s earthy sense of fashion.

 There are two sides to every story, however. Another version of the urban legend invokes the name of Blessed Marco D’Aviano. A Capuchin friar with a courageous streak, he’s known for having inspired both Catholic and Protestant troops to fight back during the Battle of Vienna in the 17th century. His skills in oratory whipped the Christian soldiers into action, galvanising them to defeat their Turkish enemies. The opponents are fabled to have left behind bags of coffee beans in their hasty retreat. Blessed Marco D’Aviano supposedly came across them, and brewed them. Unhappy with the bitter taste of the ensuing beverage, he added milk and honey. Thus, an intriguing blend of both history and myth regale coffee-lovers with how the cappuccino was whipped into existence.

 Folklore aside, the aromatic and creamy drink is very much a cultural staple for those in Italy, and abroad. Holiday-goers be forewarned, however. In the country that was instrumental in building coffee-culture, certain etiquette must be observed as to when a caffeine fix is enjoyed. Whether delighting in the sights of Venice, Florence, or Rome, adventurers should indulge in a cappuccino only during breakfast.  Italians believe that the rich topping, along with a light cornetto (a pastry that’s similar to a croissant), help ease away morning hunger. Consumed after that however, and the milk begins to interfere with digestion. For a culture that’s passionate about its cuisine, a sore stomach before lunch is almost tragic.

 Whether you’re a fan of the cappuccino or not, it’s fair to say that its deliciousness has withstood the test of time. Although some of its fame may not be rooted in fact, its existence is truly legendary.