Monks, Apes and Coffee

Two Capuchin monks and a Franciscan with a laden mule at ford by Alessandro Magnasco.

The Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, founded in 1520, was intended as a more pure following of St Francis’ teachings than that practiced by the Franciscans of the time. Monks were required to live austere lives, wear a beard and remain barefoot. The brown robes with a hood, or capuccio, worn by members became strongly associated with the order.

When European explorers in South America came across a small monkey with a brown coat resembling a monk’s habit, they named them capuchin monkeys after the order. The stereotypical organ-grinder’s monkey, capuchins are remarkably intelligent animals, displaying tool use, planning and self-awareness. Captive capuchins have even learnt to carry out transactions using money (and may have independently invented prostitution).

The travelling organ grinder by Edouard Klieber

In the early twentieth century, a beverage of espresso coffee, milk and milk froth became popular in Italy. By 1950, it had acquired the name cappuccino, reputedly in reference to the similarity in colour of the coffee to the robes of the Capuchin order.

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