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Discovering the cuccuma: Naples’ traditional coffee pot

Discovering the cuccuma: Naples’ traditional coffee pot

by Luciana Squadrilli 02 December 2015

Luciana Squadrilli introduces the Neapolitan cuccuma and lists the best places in Naples to experience it for yourself.

Luciana Squadrilli is a freelance journalist and author specialising in food and travel writing.

If you want to delve deeper into Naples' coffee traditions, there are still two things you need to know. The first is the cuccuma; the name given to the traditional Neapolitan coffee pot. Praised in the iconic Neapolitan playwright Eduardo de Filippo's dramas, it used to be the main feature of every Neapolitan house, a symbol of welcome and conviviality. The cuccuma involves a different kind of brewing and grinding, as it is based on a gravity-forced drip brew, unlike the traditional moka pot, which is based on pressure. It consists of three parts: a bottom section filled with water, a filter section filled with ground coffee (the finer it is, the more intense the result) and an upside-down pot with a downwards spout, initially placed on the top. When the water boils, the coffee maker is flipped over to let the water filter through the coffee grounds. Once the water has dripped through, the pot is served at the table with the spout upwards. During the dripping, the cuppetiello – a small cone, usually made with paper – is used to cover the spout's hole, to preserve the coffee's aroma.

Coffee made with the cuccuma is different from espresso and more similar to filter coffee, but it keeps the traditional intense aroma of Neapolitan coffee. Due to the longer preparation time, the cuccuma has often been replaced by the iconic moka, but in many Neapolitan houses the ritual is still observed. If you’re not lucky enough to receive an invitation for coffee from a local, you can enjoy a proper cuccuma at the elegant coffeehouse La Caffettiera in Piazza de' Martiri, where a beautiful old and artistic coffee pot collection can be admired.

The corno is an iconic part of the Neapolitan cuccuma
The corno is an iconic part of the Neapolitan cuccuma
Drinking coffee brewed in one of these takes like a mix between espresso and filter drip
Drinking coffee brewed in one of these takes like a mix between espresso and filter drip

Since 1982, the Gran Caffè La Caffettiera has represented Naples' coffee parlour. Here, the cuccuma is served in the elegant inner rooms with a beautiful copper pot and a twisted, red crock spout with a broken tip. To be successful in bringing good luck, the Neapolitan corno (a horn-shaped amulet) must be broken, accidentally or on purpose.

‘We want to recreate the rituals involved with Neapolitan coffee traditions,’ says Guglielmo Campajola, who owns La Caffettiera with his son Andrea. ‘We serve ours with a small scroll quoting the famous De Filippo's monologue about coffee, and with the iconic red spout. I like to see the cuccuma asthe coffee for those who care about each other, because it requires attention and sharing. Until the 1970s, every Neapolitan family used to end their big Sunday meal with coffee made using a huge cuccuma, which could serve ten or twelve people. Coffee was often bought as green beans, then roasted and ground at home according to one's preferences. Serving the cuccuma today is a tribute to Naples' history.’

Where to drink coffee in Naples

Here are some of the best places to experience real Neapolitan coffee, maybe drinking it alongside a delicious sfogliatella and paying for – or having – a caffe sospeso.

Gran Caffè La Caffettiera Enjoy a properly served cuccuma coffee in the elegant rooms or at the outer tables of the refined Campajola family's venue, where you can also choose your coffee to be made with a traditional moka, en expresso machine or a filter coffee pot, and with different blends by the Neapolitan coffee company Kimbo. Here the caffè sospeso tradition is still alive, and you can taste also sweet and savoury food and good cocktails.

Bar Mexico We are not sure why, but ‘Mexico’ is the distinguishing label for bars using the renowned Neapolitan coffee brand Passalaqua. Bar Mexico in Piazza Dante – right opposite the underground station – has been serving excellent expresso since 1948, and is currently owned by brothers Errico and Aldo Castagnola. Here, everything is traditional: coffee cups are kept in boiling water, coffee is served with sugar and the amazing baristas are curt and kind at the same time. Caffè con panna (hot coffee with whipped cream) is extremely delicious and the equally amazing brioches and croissants can be bought to take away. You have to pay at the cashier first and he will give you a coloured paper ticket according to what you ordered. A small cup full of coffee beans also collects the ‘suspended’ tickets for caffè sospeso.

Scaturchio A real landmark amongst Naples' historical coffeehouses and bakeries, Scaturchio is set in the heart of the old town centre, facing the stunning San Domenico church. Enjoy a good espresso at the outside tables in the square, and don't forget to taste a sfogliatella – the typical, shell-shaped Neapolitan pastry filled with ricotta cheese and candied fruit – or a ministeriale, a lavish round chocolate cake made to a secret recipe.

Caffè Nilo Not far from Scaturchio, close to the small square where an ancient statue representing the Nile river stands, Caffè Nilo is just as historical, though definitely more popular. Here the coffee cult is strictly linked to another Neapolitan obsession: football, and its Argentinian legend Diego Armando Maradona, who lived and played here in the 1980s. The bar is full of Maradona's memorabilia, included an alleged relic; a lock of his hair. The espresso is very good and they also keep the caffè sospeso tradition alive.

 
 
 

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