“First you have a bite of cake, then some water, and AFTER you drink the coffee
These are the words that Giuseppe Schisano, owner of Don Café Street Art Coffee in the Italian city of Naples, told me. Accustomed to drinking my espresso from a small cup, I was surprised that the coffee I was about to drink, prepared in a traditional Neapolitan pot, came with so many steps.
A lifelong coffee lover, Schisano was inspired to open a mobile coffee cart after seeing one in Copenhagen. He wanted to do the same in the Quarter Spagnoli in Naples, where he was born and raised, but with a twist: he would use the flip pot, known in Italian as the napoletana cafeteriaor colloquially, cuccuma either the cuccumella.
The origins of the pot go back to France, where percolators were patented at the beginning of the 19th century. When the design reached Naples, local artisans made it their own, producing versions that differed in shape, size, and material; the Neapolitan preference was for tin or aluminium, rather than the more expensive copper in France. It quickly spread throughout the city and at one point became synonymous with the coffee culture in the city of Naples.
It requires time, money and patience, cucuma-Brewed coffee embodies hospitality. This notion of serving coffee as an act of care is still found in the tradition of the city of weak coffeeeither suspended coffee, which allows patrons to pay for an extra cup at certain bars, so that someone who can’t pay can enjoy it. He also lives in the Neapolitan tradition of ‘o cuonzolo, derived from Italian comfort, console, which consists of bringing food to people who have suffered a loss. Schisano shared a vivid memory from his teenage years of people bringing coffee and sugar to his family’s home when his father died, as part of that tradition. The smell of coffee that day, he told me, left him marked.
Growing up in the Quartieri Spagnoli was not easy, Schisano tells me. This neighborhood was once considered quite dangerous, and many who grew up here lacked job opportunities. Schisano found various positions in the food service industry, eventually moving to Germany to work. After his time there, he made that inspiring trip to Copenhagen.
Schisano needed help getting the financing and permits he needed, but thanks to the support of two organizations (If-ImparareFare Y caritas), was advised on business and obtained a loan for a bicycle cart in 2018 to serve coffee to locals and visitors along Via Toledo, the main thoroughfare of the Quartieri.
In keeping with the local tradition of coffee as hospitality, Schisano asks for donations only on his cart, where his younger brother, Manuele, also works. “Some people leave five or six euros, some people leave 20 cents and they are thanked in the same way,” Schisano told me.
The success of the cart allowed him to open a physical location in the Quartieri earlier this year, serving food, drinks and, of course, coffee from a cucuma. He hopes to further expand his business and plans to serve other types of coffee, and launch an online store where people can buy his blend and their own flip coffee maker.
In 2019, Achille Munari, a transplant from Umbria to Naples, opened a cafe a kilometer away from Schisano’s cart. Unlike Schisano, Munari was not especially passionate about coffee throughout his life, but was touched when his Neapolitan friends made it for him for the first time in a traditional pot. He was struck by the care it required and the idea that it should be sipped slowly, rather than consumed as a quick, energizing exclamation point after a meal. He even decided to name the coffee after him, and thus Cuccuma Caffè was born.
“Today we have espresso in Italy, which is fast, while the old Neapolitan coffee is slow,” Munari tells me. We’re chatting just after the end of a lunch shift (the cafe serves family-style plates of spaghetti and pastries). “It wasn’t just a way to take a break and get a boost, it was a way to spend time together. I didn’t want this tradition to be lost, so when people have time, they can come here and sit quietly, drink some water before having their coffee, talk and relax. That is Neapolitan coffee: conversation and spending time together.”
His dedication to the pot and tradition shines through in the cafe’s decor, which includes knick-knacks and the Cuccuma Museum (the Cuccuma Museum): a collection of ancient pots of different shapes and sizes.
cuccuma it was eventually largely replaced in homes throughout Italy with Alfonso Bialetti’s faster Moka Express, patented in 1933. The two share some similarities. like a mocha, cuccuma It has three elements: a filter, a water chamber and a pot with a spout, but unlike a moka, which has steam pressure to make coffee, cuccuma depends on severity.
Step one to make coffee in a cucuma is filling the chamber with water. Next, coffee is poured into the filter. The filter is closed with a lid and then placed in the water chamber. The pot is turned over and secured above the water chamber, which is then placed on the fire. When steam and water droplets begin to come out of the spout, the entire appliance is turned so that the water passes through the filter and the coffee drips into the coffee maker. Traditionally, a paper cone, known as the cuppetielloit is placed on the peak while waiting for gravity to do its work.
It is recommended to drink the coffee as is, despite the fact that many Neapolitans drink their espresso with added sugar. Both Schisano and Munari explained that there is no need for sugar when drinking a cucuma because the gentler percolation process helps promote a mild aftertaste. To illustrate, Schisano used a different example from Neapolitan cuisine. “It’s like fried pizza and baked pizza are made with the same dough, but cooked differently, which gives them a different flavor.”
After the cake and the water, I examined the coffee in its little glass. The brown foam and silky shine of the espresso were absent. “Try it,” Schisano urged, “before it gets cold!” The coffee was smooth, flavorful and smooth with no need for sugar. And perhaps most importantly, you can savor the connectivity and history, hospitality and traditions of Naples, over coffee made using the local favorite brewing method of this beautiful and complex Italian city. The important thing is to enjoy it as intended: slowly and in good company.
Molly Fitzpatrick is a Rome-based writer and the creator of Luggage and Life. This is Molly Fitzpatrick’s first film for Sprudge.