Caffè Florian in Venice was considered one of the first coffee houses on the European continent and was established in 1720, but generally, the Italian lands didn’t take to café culture even after coffee houses blazed their trails of popularity in Austria, France, England, and the United States. It was only with the great Neapolitan impresario, Domenico Barbaja, (1778-1841), that a coffee house culture made a mark upon Naples.
Barbaja started out as a simple waiter in Milan, but went on to build an empire of cafés in northern Italy that were often fronts for his gambling parlors. His money brought him to Naples where in 1809 he became the director of the prestigious Teatro San Carlo. He brought opera singer Isabella Colbran to the theater as well as Giachino Rossini.
Folklore has it that Barbaja made his first big windfall of money through the creation of a signature beverage called the Barbajata. Today, however, nobody has ever heard of the Barbajata anywhere in the Campania region. Some claim Barbaja actually invented cappuccino, but that seems far-fetched. More likely the beverage still survives in a modern day form called Caffè con Panna or Coffee with Whipping Cream. Simple and elegant, the drink is made from one shot of espresso doused on top with whipped cream.
Places To See: Tribute to Barbaja can be found at the Teatro San Carlo where his bust stands inside an intermission hall. Domenico Barbaja lived in the palazzo at Via Toledo 202 close to the theater; you can still see the plaque dedicated to him on this street.