It’s summertime, and instead of having a giant 20 ounce frappuccino with a gazillion calories and the potential for brain freeze, why not enjoy a true Italian coffee dessert: the beloved affogato! We’re going to present two ways to enjoy this beverage: first, there’s the very traditional and quick hit espresso cup version, and second, the more “dessert” style that still hails from Italy.
With our new format for How Tos, we’re going to dig straight into the How To visuals and descriptions, and you want to learn more, read on past them for some history and background on this drink.
How to Make a Traditional Affogato
This is the basic “quick hit” summer espresso dessert beverage that originated in Italy as long ago as gelato existed. It’s super easy to make and is quite refreshing for a quick sugary jolt of espresso and ice cream.
How to Make a Dessert Affogato
This drink build is also popular in Italy, and usually features a normal scoop of ice cream in a cappuccino cup that has espresso brewed directly onto it. Optionally, you can add sprinkles, chocolate powder, or icing sugar to top it off. It’s served with a tasting spoon.
And that’s it! This one is a true dessert ice cream, using the espresso to flavour it. It is served with a spoon to scoop up the ice cream as it partially melts into the espresso, and for stirring things up.
History of the Affogato.
Above I talked about the affogato existing as long as gelato has, in Italy, but that’s not quite true. Gelato was invented during the Roman times, but wasn’t regularly available to the general public until… the 1600s! (yep, Italian ice cream is that old!). A Florentine named Francesco Procopio invented a gelato making machine for his Paris-based cafe, and brought the dessert to the French public for the first time. It very quickly made its way to Italy, and became so popular that by 1770, the first gelato machine was imported to the USA (to New York City, of course) introducing the ice cream to Americans. Legend has it George Washington himself was such a fan that he featured it at one of his big celebratory events.
Coffee’s involvement with gelato is almost as old. In the late 1600s, coffee was one of the prime flavourings for gelato, either during the creation stage of the gelato, or as an additive when served. Gelato at its most basic is milk, eggs and sugar. It’s called Gelato Crema, and on its own is super tasty, but Italians started adding other flavourings to it. It so happens two prime ice cream ingredients were introduced into Europe within a few decades of each other: chocolate and coffee. No one quite knows which one came first for gelato, but most agree they were used early on in gelato’s European popularity.
The actual affogato recipe origin is a bit more murky. I’ve done a bit of research on this, and can’t find any true history of the dessert under this name. Affogato in Italian means “drowned”, as in the ice cream is drowned in espresso. Affogato is also used for other Italian recipes; for example, the broccoli di rape affogato, a broccoli dish drowned in a garlic sauce. I did find some references in old ads to pre-WWII espresso served with gelato but it wasn’t clear that they were mixed together.
The affogato was a regular cafe staple by the 1950s in Italy, when the making of gelato became industrialized and modernized (right up until WWII, gelato was still be made using stored snow from the winter time (stored in deep underground caves!)). Gelateria became nearly as common as cafes in Italy (a boon during the hot sweltering summer months) and were identifiable as quintessentially Italian, along with cafes. The marriage of modern espresso with gelato was a complete given.
In the USA, the affogato was also crazy popular in big eastern cities like New York and Boston. The New York Times’ first mention of the dessert is in 1985 in a review of a NYC restaurant.
While the dessert has never lost its popularity in Europe and especially Italy, it faded in the USA because of a guy named George Howell (yep, that George Howell). Howell, when he owned the Coffee Connection in Boston, invented a drink called the Frappuccino (yep, he did). The frappuccino was the marriage of a soft serve ice cream to coffee, paying homage to the affogato, but making it more like an American favourite: the milk shake. When Starbucks bought Howell’s Coffee connection chain, their purchase included his roastery, branding, and his recipes, including the Frappuccino. And they rolled that drink out across North America… and in doing so, took the spotlight away from the humble affogato.
It’s a shame though, because the affogato is a simple drink build and brings so much joy to the tastebuds, in a tiny little package. My personal preference is for the espresso cup sized version, but for an after dinner treat, the cappuccino sized serving is quite nice. I haven’t had a Frappuccino in over a decade, but I still enjoy affogatos several times a month. Give it a try the next time your sweet tooth beckons.
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Taste The Coffee 2019