If you’re a true coffee lover, you already know this beverage comes in endless variations, presenting itself in incredible blends and different preparations. One of my favorites is undoubtedly Neapolitan coffee. Characterised by a strong and deep aroma sweetened by suggestive Arabian notes, this coffee captivates anyone who tries it.
I can assure you that there are many people close to me who, after trying Neapolitan coffee, have never gone back to “traditional coffee.”
Is Neapolitan coffee a coffee bean blend, a brewing method, or both?
Neapolitan coffee is the perfect synthesis of carefully selected coffee beans and a unique brewing method, offering a tasting experience that has won over coffee lovers worldwide.
- Coffee bean blend: Neapolitan coffee stands out for its unique blend of coffee beans. It combines Arabica beans’ smoothness with the Robusta beans’ intensity, achieving an exceptional balance of flavours.
- Exceptional roasting: The coffee beans used in Neapolitan coffee are roasted at higher temperatures and for longer durations, further enhancing their flavour profile.
- Brewing method: The preparation of Neapolitan coffee is a meticulous and ritualized process. It is traditionally made in a special coffee maker called “Cuccuma” or “Cuccumella,” which allows for a slow and gradual extraction of the coffee’s flavours.
- Sensory experience: Neapolitan coffee is served in small porcelain cups, enhancing the tasting experience. Before sipping the coffee, sipping water is common to cleanse the palate and fully appreciate the flavour nuances.
- Perfect balance: Combining high-quality bean blend and artisanal preparation results in a robust yet balanced coffee, intense yet smooth.
History of Neapolitan coffee
To discover the history of Neapolitan coffee, we must go back to the 18th century: a historical period when the Spanish ruled Naples, and the influence of the clergy was particularly strong. Neither of these groups particularly appreciated coffee.
The clergy considered coffee, with its unsettling black colour and its effects on people, a true “diabolical drink,” even a bearer of the evil eye.
However, the arrival of a beautiful Austrian princess changed everything forever. Maria Carolina of Austria, a princess of Habsburg descent and a great coffee lover who used to consume it, regularly introduced the custom of drinking coffee at the court. A novelty that, for obvious diplomatic reasons, could not be stopped in any way.
However, this is not the only version of the story. According to another version, the musicologist Pietro Della Valle introduced Neapolitan coffee after discovering the “forbidden drink” during a long journey to the Holy Land.
According to some scholars, Naples knew its coffee in 1450 when the drink was clandestinely introduced at the University of Medicine in Salerno. Regardless of which version is true, historians agree that Neapolitan coffee began to spread massively from the 19th century onwards.
Differences between Italian coffee and Neapolitan coffee
A cup of Neapolitan coffee (I’m referring to the bean blend) reveals its differences from traditional Italian coffee from the very first sip. Neapolitan coffee has a decidedly bolder taste than its Italian counterpart.
The secret behind the intense aroma of Neapolitan coffee lies in the blend used to prepare it. Coffee beans are roasted at higher temperatures and for longer periods, combining the traditional quality of Arabica with a percentage of high-quality Robusta.
This Robusta, less sweet but with a higher caffeine content, gives Neapolitan coffee its characteristic crema layer on the surface. For this reason, it is necessary to stir it frequently to mix the creamier part with the liquid below.
Neapolitan coffee in Naples
But the differences don’t stop there. If Neapolitan coffee is consumed in Naples, the water comes from the crystal-clear springs of Serino in the mountains of Irpinia. This water is considered one of the purest in the world and significantly contributes to the unique taste of the coffee.
The way coffee is served is also distinctive. Neapolitan coffee is poured into a domed porcelain cup that keeps the drink hot for longer. It is traditionally served with a glass of water, an essential part of the service.
Neapolitan baristas are considered some of the most skilled and talented, as they have inherited their skills from the coffee masters of the Bourbon era.
Tradition also plays a fundamental role in preparing and consuming Neapolitan coffee. It’s not just a morning drink before work; it’s a true ritual enjoyed in good company throughout the day.
On average, a Neapolitan consumes at least five cups of coffee daily, often leaving a “Caffè sospeso,” a cup of coffee already paid for and offered to the next person who enjoys it.
The difference between the Neapolitan coffee maker and the Italian coffee maker
Although Neapolitan and Italian coffee makers share some similarities, such as using heat and pressure to extract coffee, there are notable differences between the two.
The main difference lies in how the ingredients are placed in the coffee maker. Water and coffee are placed in separate compartments in the Neapolitan coffee maker, while in the Italian coffee maker, they are combined in a single chamber. This results in a slightly different brewing process and a distinctive taste.
Another significant difference lies in how the coffee is served. Neapolitan coffee is poured into a domed porcelain cup, while Italian coffee is generally served in a smaller cup.
The Neapolitan coffee maker: the heart of tradition
The preparation of Neapolitan coffee is a process that perfectly combines the quality of the beans, pure water, and the barista’s skill. But to complete this ritual, a fundamental tool is used: the Neapolitan coffee maker, also known as “cuccuma” or “cuccumella.”
The cuccuma is a coffee maker with a distinctive structure that has endured over time. It consists of several parts, including the coffee maker with a handle and a spout, separate tanks for water and coffee, a filter, and a lid.
The name “cuccuma” comes from the Neapolitan expression used to refer to copper or terracotta pots because these coffee makers were originally made of copper. Starting from 1886, they began to be made of aluminium or stainless steel, a more practical material.
The cuccuma stands out for its ability to evolve and adapt to modern times without abandoning its original design. For example, modern stainless steel versions of cuccuma maintain their traditional structure but are suitable for induction cookers.
Preparing Neapolitan coffee with the cuccuma
Preparing Neapolitan coffee with the cuccuma is a process that requires precision and attention to detail.
- The first step is to acquire the appropriate blend, usually sold as whole beans at the best roasters. Then, the beans should be ground and placed in the coffee tank of the cuccuma, making sure to screw the filter on correctly.
- The next step is carefully filling the water tank paying attention to the indicated limit. Once both tanks are ready, assemble the cuccuma and place it upside down on the stove, with the spout pointing downwards.
- As water or steam begins to come out of the small hole in the tank, you should flip the cuccuma so that the hot water mixes with the ground coffee.
- To preserve the aroma of the coffee, some Neapolitan coffee lovers use a small paper cone, known as “cuppetiello,” to cover the spout of the coffee maker and prevent the aromas from escaping.
- Neapolitan coffee is ready to be served once the water has filtered completely through the ground coffee.
Neapolitan coffee is a gem of Italian tradition that has captured the hearts of coffee lovers worldwide. Its rich history, distinctive preparation with the cuccuma, and notable differences from the Italian coffee maker make this beverage unique and cherished.
Each cup of Neapolitan coffee is a journey into the past, a tribute to craftsmanship, and a celebration of coffee culture in Naples and beyond.