Most people have heard the old saying that cappuccino should not be ordered in Italy after 11 AM.
Like most cultural myths, there is a foundation of truth to this story. However, it is often exaggerated. Here are the facts, along with some history.
Monks and Monkeys and Coffee
According to popular wisdom, the association of “cappuccino” with coffee dates back to the late 1940s. However, the root of the term dates back further.
Italian for “cappuccio”, the word means “hood” and any word ending in “-ino”, means that it is small or cute. Cappuccino can also be translated as “little hood”, which refers to the hood worn by Franciscan monks in the early 1500s.
These monks were known as Capuchin monks or Cappuccini in Italian.
A few centuries later when scientists were giving names to primates scientists bestowed the name “capuchin” on a monkey species with a coloring that scientists believed resembled Capuchin monks’ hoods.
Although it isn’t clear when frothy coffee and coffee were combined, the beverage we now know as a cappuccino was patented in 1901. The term “cappuccino”, however, was not common until the late 1940s. The drink’s name came from the color that reminded someone of the Capuchin monks who wore the robes.
Although the cappuccino was not invented by monks, it is their name.
The Famous Cappuccino Rule
Let’s get to the heart of the saying, “Never order a cappuccino after 11:00 am.”
It is important to remember that has nothing to do with cappuccino and everything to do with milk .
It is no surprise that Italians are obsessed with their digestion. It is a topic they think about a lot. It’s not taboo and is often the topic of TV commercials in Italy. Look in any Italian grocery store’s yogurt aisle to see how many yogurt containers are marketed as digestive aids. (Remember Activia? It’s still very popular in Italy.
Italians believe that drinking milk after eating will cause digestive problems. They avoid drinking milk after eating, as it is not something they will do. Because Italian breakfast is a combination of a coffee drink with a pastry, it doesn’t count. The milk is part of the meal if your coffee drink choice is a cappuccino.
However, ordering a cappuccino after lunch or dinner is not a good idea. It would be a crime for an Italian to do this.
Here’s the thing, though – if you’re not Italian, or if you are and you don’t subscribe to the milk-destroys-digestion theory, go ahead and order whatever milky coffee drink you want at any time of day. They will likely accept your request in most larger or more touristy cities and make it without any questions.
Some waiters might give you a strange look or tell you why it’s bad. Chances are that you will get the coffee you pay for, even if the waiter says a silent prayer for you gastro-intestinal health as you sip it.
Now, even if the waiter refuses to serve you, you will understand that he/she is only looking out for your best interests.