Posted in Kafevend Blog

For those of you who made a New Year's resolution to go on a diet and have so far managed to keep to it, walk away now; today's blog could potentially inspire a decadent new habit! We talked before Christmas of the wonderful coffee related inventions to come out of Turin, the capital of Italy's Piedmont district. From the city came not only the very first espresso machine, but an up to the minute model specially designed for the astronauts aboard the International Space Station. A place that takes its coffee that seriously is bound to have a signature drink, and it does, the bicerin (pronounced bee-chair-een).

The bicerin is always served in a glass so that its three layers can be seen. Those layers are chocolate, espresso and  frothed up creamy milk. The drink's seventeenth century forerunner was the bavaresia, which contained the same ingredients, but stirred rather than layered. By the 1840s the bavaresia was old hat and had been replaced by the bicerin. It was a particular favourite of Alexandre Dumas, French author of 'Three Musketeers' fame, when he visited the city in 1852.

No surprise then the city that gave us the espresso should have a drink that puts it at the heart of its most famous drink, but what about the chocolate? In fact it's actually Turin's strong ties to chocolate that really account for the drink; it was a way of showing it off. Whilst Spain was the first European nation to enjoy the flavour of the cocoa bean, courtesy of Hernán Cortés, European nobility who married into the Spanish Royal family were lucky enough to get a taste too. This was how the Duke of Savoy managed to obtain some cocoa beans which he took back home to Turin with him, along with his Spanish princess bride. Chocolate was known only as a drink back then in the 1500s, but it  certainly started to catch on and once the process for making solid chocolate was developed Turin quickly became a centre of excellence. By the mid 1700s it was producing enough to be able to export to France, Austria, Germany and Switzerland. We think of the Swiss as the masters of chocolate making, but in the 1800s they were sending their people to Turin as apprentices in order to learn the art of the chocolatier.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the import of cocoa beans was badly affected and Turin's chocolate makers had to come up with a solution. Hazelnuts were grown locally and so a hazelnut paste was added to make the chocolate go further. The result tasted so good that gianduiotto remains popular to this day. And in an echo of wartime cocoa shortages solved by the addition of hazelnuts, Ferrero developed gianduja, which later became the Nutella that so many of us like to spread on our toast as a treat!

To return once more to the bicerin, the cafés of Turin keep their recipes a closely guarded secret, but if you're not off to Turin any time soon and like the sound of the drink, why not experiment with your own version this weekend? And if that sounds heavy on effort, just have a coffee accompanied by Nutella on toast!

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