The Cappuccino’s rule

After long conversations with my girlfriend about whether or not it’s the case to order cappuccino after a meal (note: she is Italian, but too many years spent in the UK have dramatically modified her DNA), I decided to take this debate seriously and to search the web for details.

Let me start defining one of the most controversial Italian food rules: ordering a cappuccino after a meal is a visible sign of (coffee) ignorance.

Just google “why Italians don’t drink cappuccino after…” and you will get millions of articles confirming the rule.

Cappuccino in the afternoon? Never.  Cappuccino (in Milan: Cappuccio) is your welcome to the world in the morning, and it’s not to be repeated later in the day. It’s the thick, frothy and delicious cappuccino non-Italians enjoy drinking at all hours. But here in the Boot, it’s taboo to ask for a cappuccino after lunch, or, in general, after breakfast time.

In an interesting article in The Florentine, Julie Butterfield says that Italians obsess about digestion. It’s a cultural issue you get both from watching TV and from hanging around with Italians. There are no fibre drinks that make you regular, so common in the US but basically invisible in Italian pharmacies. But there are ads for yoghurt that help your digestion, because it’s what you eat, not what supplements you take, that counts in this country.

Aside from being bad form, there are sound dietary reasons for swapping the thick frothy latte with an afternoon espresso. ‘Italians cook and eat with purpose and intent; they recognize that milk contains fat, which is hard to digest, so if you tack that onto a big lunch, the unused calories get stored as fat, not nutrients (and thus, it’s a waste that goes to your waist).

In addition to this you have to consider another typical Italian habit: the order of food. Travelhopper writes about the order of meals in Italy: the appetizer (optional), the primo (pasta, rice or other starch-based element), the secondo (meat or fish, with side of boiled or grilled vegetables, sometimes salad), fruit and then dessert. Incidentally, you don’t have to eat all of these parts of the meal in one sitting — that is mainly for special occasions. The starch is considered the easiest to digest. The meat comes afterwards, harder to digest.  Whether or not this order of food would work for you this is the logic behind the structure of Italian eating, and understanding it helps understand all the rest.

Now, let’s go back to the Cappuccino’s rule. It is rather more complex. It comes down to the digestibility of milk in large, warm volumes. Whether or not you’re lactose intolerant, milk is filling. A proper cappuccino is made with whole milk, so it’s also fattening. Many Italians will consider this frothy beverage “breakfast” with just a few cookies dunked in, or even alone.

(…) The logic is really meal-related. Consider a cappuccino like a snack between meals. Had alone, it’s okay. Consumed right after another meal, it’s considered bad for your digestion, while the short espresso is considered a digestive.

So this is the story behind. Now you are free to order your cappuccino after a pizza. But don’t, don’t do it if you are in Italy. You will be immediately recognised as a rude food-ignorant stranger.

5 Replies to “The Cappuccino’s rule”

  1. I live in Italy and unfortunately I sometimes drink cappuccino after lunch. But that’s because I suffer from gastritis, and a normal espresso can become kryptonite.
    So, when my stomach is in optimal conditions (<10% of the times) I go for an espresso; if conditions are merely good (about half of the times) I go for a macchiato; otherwise, I either get a cappuccino or (more often) skip coffee :-(.

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