In this excerpt from the Eduardo De Filippo theater play Questi Fantasmi, Professor Pasquale Lojacono - played by De Filippo himself - discloses the secrets to making the perfect demitasse of coffee with the trademark Napoletana drip brew coffee pot.
I have followed his instructions in this step-by-step Napoletana tutorial.
The venue where Italians drink coffee is called a bar, which is a coffee bar that also serves cocktails and spirits, but also sandwiches and croissants. So in a bar you can drink coffee beverages, fruit juices, alcoholic drinks and also eat pastries, panini, gelato, etc. (with many possible variations). Sometimes you can even gamble with a slot machine. Some bars are only a counter and a cash register with no bar stools, others may have tables and serve a warm meal for lunch.
But mainly, the bar, to be called one, has to brew coffee. Il caffè is normally enjoyed at the bar, and either with friends or alone, or chatting with the barista (Italian for barman), and it implies asking for an espresso. Espresso is always served with a saucer and demitasse spoon, and sometimes with a complimentary wrapped chocolate and a tall glass of cold tap water. While caffè espresso is normally drunken quickly, often standing up and on a rushed break, Napoli tradition imposes the strict rule to drink your espresso seated to fully enjoy its pang.
Here in Italy, you will not be able to replicate your experience of ordering and consuming a coffee beverage as you would, say in an American coffee shop. In Italy, each beverage comes in a predefined size (an espresso cup or a cappuccino cup) and with a standard type of milk (usually pasteurized whole milk). Concepts like medium, large, tall, fat, slim and non-fat are foreign to us. Decaf is (barely) accepted. You may be able to obtain soy milk in some establishments, but you’ll be looked upon with suspicion.
In Italy we don't walk around drinking coffee, so the concept of "to go" is quite foreign. Because we do not routinely use disposable coffee cups, we don’t see the need to bring our own to reduce waste. We also don’t feel compelled to fill containers to the brim. In fact, in some cases, that is a veritable no-no. For example, a shot of espresso will never fill the cup. If it does, the coffee is considered annacquato, watered down, thus denoting inferior quality.In Italy we drink un caffè for the pleasure of tasting an intensely aromatic nectar that leaves behind a heavenly aftertaste. Water makes us skeptical. "Acqua fa ruggine", my old nanny used to say. Water generates rust.
Most Italians do not have an espresso machine at home: they use a stovetop coffee brewer pot called moka. In 1933 Alfonso Bialetti revolutionized home coffee-brewing in Italy with the introduction of the Moka Express aluminum stovetop brewer. This simple, reliable machine became a design icon of the 20th century and even today can be found in nearly 90% of Italian households.
I think if I were a woman I’d wear coffee as a perfume.
~John Van Druten