Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Answer: How much is a cappuccino at the cafe near here?

You might recognize the place... 

Most of this week's Challenge wasn't too hard--but the last Challenge question is tough.  Let's jump into it.  

This pic from last year brought forth a couple of Challenges for you:  

1. Where am I standing in this photo?  

For some reason, I thought the partially obscured view would make image identification difficult--but I was totally wrong.  If you just do a simple Search by Image, you'll find that this are the results you see: 

 I did this by saving the image to a file, then uploading that file into, which produced several lovely images (including my own).  A quick scan of the results tells you that this was taken at St. Mark's Basilica (Basilica di Marco).  With just a bit more poking around, you'll find that the brick tower in the background is St Mark's Campanile (Italian: Campanile di San Marco, Venetian: Canpanièl de San Marco), and the statue of the horses is the Quadriga di San Marco--although the one behind me is a copy of the original, which is housed in the museum. 
Here's a pic with an arrow pointing to where I'm standing.  Yes, I'm on the roof (but that's okay!).  

2. Can you tell me how much a cappuccino costs at that famous nearby cafe at the moment?  (Extra credit: Why is this particular cafe so famous?)  

What's the famous cafe?  The obvious query works well: 

     [ famous cafe piazza san marco ] 

 How much is a cappuccino there?  

Initially, my query was [ menu Caffe Florian ] -- but that proved to be ambiguous.  (You know how many cafes are called "Caffe Florian"?)  So I added in the location: 

     [ menu caffee florian venice ] 

Which led me to the Caffè Florian website.  If you download the PDF, you'll see on page 27: 

For the "why is this cafe famous?" Challenge, I tried the obvious Google query:  

     [ why is the Caffe Florian famous? ] 

which led me back to the Caffè Florian's website.  Of course, you have to take what they write about themselves with a grain of salt--they're heavily motivated to have a large claim to fame.  But in fact, the website is fairly history-free--certainly no exaggerated claims.  The Wikipedia page on Caffè Florian gives a good deal more background.

There are many reasons for the cafe to be famous, but in its early days, the Caffè was patronised by many celebrities of the time, including the playwright Carlo Goldoni, Lord Byron, Marcel Proust, Charles Dickens, Goethe and Casanova... who was no doubt attracted by the fact that Caffè Florian was the only coffee house that allowed women. 

The cafe is also famous for Casanova's late night stop on Oct 31, 1756... the night that Giacomo Casanova broke out of prison, but before fleeing into the dark, he stopped for a quick cup of coffee.  Of course.   

3. Can you tell me how much a cappuccino would have cost at that cafe in 1955?  (For extra credit, can you determine why I'm asking about 1955?)  

It turns out that THIS is a difficult Challenge.  I've tried all kinds of things--looking for old menus, searching the Internet Archive, looking in old books for mentions of buying a cappuccino in 1955 Venice--but no dice.  At least not so far!  I'm widening the Challenge just a bit to see if we can't figure out the cost of a coffee in Venice in the 1950s--but even that is proving difficult.  Apparently, the price of a coffee / espresso / cappuccino was so obvious that it didn't need writing down!  

But take heart--I have some leads.  This little tidbit of info is just harder to find than most.  I'll be back in a few days with an update on this Challenge.  

Meanwhile... the extra credit question is pretty straightforward.  The query:  

     [ Caffe Florian 1955 ] 

leads to several hits, but perhaps the most interesting is the discovery that the book The Talented Mr. Ripley, which is set in Venice and has scenes in Caffe Florian, was published in 1955.  What's more, the movie Summertime, starring Katherine Hepburn, also came out in 1955--again, with scenes set in Caffe Florian.  Here's the trailer for that movie--see if you can spot the Piazza San Marco and a coffee shop there...  

I'll summarize our lessons next time.  But until then... Keep searching! 


  1. Maybe we can make an approximate. We know how much coffee costs today. And from IMDB we have "Jane paid ten thousand lire for the red goblet. That would have been about sixteen dollars in 1955."

    Finding that drink cost (or similar ) today maybe we can then have the price

    1. With Arthur Weiss suggestions [prezzo del caffe Venetia 1955]

      Storia del caffè: Il prezzo dell’espresso dal 1945 a oggi

      That links to:
      EP 7: Storia del caffè: Il prezzo dell’espresso dal 1945 a oggi -

    2. Great find. The video seems to confirm the pricing I found - saying that a cup of coffee in 1955 was 40l. (In the video at 8'52")

  2. 1 9 5 5 - spring or autumn?

    1340.91 Italian Lira (~one current euro? seems steep)
    Italian Lira (ITL)… who knows currency rates/conversions at the time? & The Italian Lira (ITL) is obsolete. It was replaced with the Euro (EUR) on January 1, 1999.
    One EUR is equivalent to 1936.27 ITL.
    current additional
    "The cost of making a cappuccino can vary depending on several factors such as the quality of the ingredients used, the location of the cafe, and whether you are making it at home or buying it at a coffee shop.

    Here is a rough breakdown of the cost of making a cappuccino at home:

    Espresso: A shot of espresso typically costs around $0.50 to $1.00, depending on the coffee beans used and the brewing method.
    Milk: The cost of milk can vary, but for the amount used in a cappuccino, it might be around $0.20 to $0.50.
    Other ingredients (optional): If you choose to add any flavorings such as syrups or toppings like cocoa powder, these would add to the cost.
    Overall, the total cost of making a cappuccino at home might range from $0.70 to $1.50 per cup, depending on the quality of the ingredients and portion sizes."

  3. I didn't do the first part of this (as I immediately recognised where you were - and knew about the famous Cafe Florian). I knew it was iconic - and is a favourite place to stop for anybody visiting St Marks (and so for films set there) - if you have the budget! So there was no challenge. BUT.... the 3rd part I missed about 1955 prices, so I thought I'd have a go.

    For something like this, searching in English is less likely to turn up anything. We are talking almost 70 years ago - when mass tourism hadn't really started. So anything written in English would have been in an old guidebook - Fodors or similar. I did a quick search and couldn't find anything online from the 1950s. (There may be - it was very quick search).

    Which means that anything is likely to be in Italian. So how do you say "price of coffee" in Italian - go to Google Translate and you get "prezzo del caffe". (I went for caffe - not cappuchino. According to Wikipedia this only became popular in the US in the 1990s. I suspect that back in the 1950s you asked for Coffee - not Cappuchino, Expresso, Americano or whatever). I then got a different search expression suggested in the quick tips: "Quanto costava un "caffè" nel "1955?" - and that gave me a snippet saying - but for 1954: "Un giornale costava 25 lire, un biglietto del tram 25 lire e una tazzina di caffè 40. Un chilo di pane 150, un litro di benzina 138 lire."

    This means the average price for a cup of coffee in Italy was 40 Lire. (Gas was 138l per ltr and a tram ticket was 25l). Unfortunately the link this came from didn't work for me:

    Using this approach I also found which gives prices for Italian bars in 1977 plus a graph of inflation from around 1950. In 1977 prices were
    Coffee: 300 lire
    Caffe Hag: 350 lire
    Correct coffee: 400 lire
    Cappuccino: 400 lire

    Using a rough calculation for inflation - of around 5% between 1955-1969 and then 15% to 1977 gave a price of 270ITl so the 40l sounds about right. Cappuccino would have been a bit more. AND of course Cafe Florian would have charged a premium so I'd expect a Cappucino to cost around 100ITL in 1955.

    According to 1USD was worth 624ITL - meaning that Cappucino would be around 15c. That seems a real bargain - although perhaps not, because of inflation - 15c (at an average of 5% over the last 68 years) comes to over $4 per cup.

  4. I'm questioning the filming locations. I know Caffe Florian says they were a filming location. IMDB lists Caffe Chioggia. I know different shots can be spliced together from different locations, but take a look at this clip. Jane (Katherine) does receive a cup that could be a cappuccino with no discernible price that I could see or hear. The shot of the people walking by is clearly Caffe Chioggia with it opening to the Grand Canal and the porticoes of the Palazzo Ducale
    So was she filmed at Caffe Florian and then made to look like she was Caffe Chioggia?

  5. the elusive "western Italian" cappuccino
    $6.95 currently in Venice West (Venetian)
    …now I'm really at a loss as to where you are? (miss the ponies though)
    is that the 1955 ➔2025 time-leap?
    is that an A-51 Espresso machine in the sky?
    good to see that all the conventions aren't in Europe…
    the old coin - stylish:

    1. night vision in Venice - not CA.

  6. who knew the Venice of Asia was so green…
    how was the milk tea? cost in yuan renminbi/ 人民币
    between 15 and 20 yuan?

  7. Another try - I searched for [filetype:pdf "The Talented Mr. Ripley"] Used Find in Page (on an iPad) to look for cappuccino. I could not find a mention of the price.

  8. After trying my hand at searching different items such as menus, pictures, articles, etc. at the Library of Congress. I went to Ask A Librarian. The response I received from the Business Section is posted below with their permission.

    Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find any sources that would give the retail cost of any kind of coffee beverages in Venice in the 1950s. I checked several travel guides to Venice and none of them talked much about food, mostly about sightseeing, architecture, etc. I checked our collection of coffee industry publications. We have a lot of sources for production and trade statistics, but there's nothing that shows the cost of a cup of coffee by city. Ideally, the best primary source would be a menu from Caffe Florian, but we do not have those.

    I did some historical newspaper searches and found some numbers that could give you a ballpark idea how much a cup of coffee could have cost in 1955, If you have access to a historical newspapers database through your local library you can search by keyword and see if you can find a better answer.

    Italy: A small cup of strong coffee with milk and a roll for equivalent of 10 cents. (1953)

    Tokyo: 50 cents a cup (1954)
    The Nome nugget. [volume] (Nome, Alaska), 10 Sept. 1954. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Chronicling America

    UK: 8 - 15 cents for espresso 7 pence to a shilling (1956)

    1951 Italy (Rome) hotel
    2,300 ($3.75) luxe room
    4000 ($6.25) with bath
    Meals: 50 cents for a light lunch of soup, entree and fruit, $6-7 for a de luxe meal with cocktails, wine. No coffee mentioned.
    By ROBERT MEYER JR.Hamilton Wright. (1951/05/06/, 1951 May 06). EUROPE AS THE TOURIST SILL FIND IT: ON ITALY'S FABULOUS AMALFI COAST. New York Times (1923-) Retrieved fromProquest

    A cup of coffee at a North Carolina inn: 5 cents. (1954)
    The Chapel Hill weekly. [volume] (Chapel Hill, N.C.), 29 Jan. 1954. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers. Lib. of Congress. Chronicling America

    And a pound bag of coffee cost 94.5 cents in New York City and in Chicago 93 cents in 1955.
    Library of Congress Control Number

    Derks, Scott, author. The value of a dollar : prices and incomes in the United States, 1860-2019 / by Scott Derks. Sixth edition / revised by Andrew Schenker. Amenia, NY : Grey House Publishing, [2019]©2019
    I am sorry I didn't find what you were looking for but maybe these numbers can give you some idea of the cost of coffee, or help verify other answers you find elsewhere.
    Thank you for using the Ask-A-Librarian service.

    Business Section / gn
    Library of Congress
    Business Section / gn
    Library of Congress

    Thank you for using Ask A Librarian at the Library of Congress.