Some Thoughts from the Cappuccino Girl

Politics and a Good Cup of Italian Espresso

Coffee has always had the magic to draw people together and chat. For some autocratic rulers, this is a recipe for political unrest. So for reasons related to rulers’ anxiety, coffee was banned in Mecca in 1511, Cairo in 1532, Constantinople in 1623, and  Prussia in 1777, and was almost banned in England in 1675.

On the contrary, Mussolini, who founded Italy’s National Fascist Party 98 years ago in November 9th 1921, was not afraid of a coffeehouse full of men. In fact, coffee bars and espresso were an important part of Mussolini’s state propaganda to build a national identity. Mussolini replaced the English word “barman” with “barista” to certify the Italian coffee culture. Espresso bars with the modern technology of espresso machines represented the “modern Italian man”, just like a quick cup of espresso: vigorous and on the go.



Fascism of course relies on cultural unity, but equally important is the making of a national economic vanguard. Mussolini found the latter in Italy’s domestically produced aluminum which was set to lead the national economy. Interestingly, this idea went hand in hand with the idea of espresso representing Italy’s national drink. In 1933, Alfonso Bialetti invented the first celebrated stovetop “Moka Express” espresso maker using guess what? Aluminum! (Read more in Jeffrey T. Schnapp, ‘The Romance of Caffeine and Aluminum’, 2001).

Interestingly too, while for fascist Italy coffee resonated with the idea of strong, dynamic, and energetic men, its ally, Germany had a completely different view of coffee. Under Nazi rule, a policy to ban coffee was launched as caffeine was viewed as a stimulant that would poison the pure Aryan flesh. But the German people could still enjoy that ah… irresistible taste of fresh brewed coffee. Decaffeinated coffee, invented by Ludwig Roselius in Bremen in 1905, was widely popular in 1930s Germany. Would you have guessed this link between decaf and fascism? But that’s a story we will have to discuss another time.



Back to Italy. Apparently, the aluminum Moka Express didn’t take off that well during war time. In part, this was due to limited production and marketing. It was not until post-World War II when Bialetti’s son launched a nation-wide marketing campaign and increased the production of the Moka Express, that it finally became a household name. Along with the fall of fascism, changes in postwar Italy’s family values and gender roles encouraged the acceptance of this home appliance. This changed espresso from being a drink associated with the male-dominated public domain to a common drink in the private domain. Made in the comfort of the kitchen, a cup of espresso is now a family affair. Nothing like politics and a good cup of Italian espresso!



Posted in Self promotion on November 10 2019

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