A philosophical bar with a throwback name, Cuccuma Caffè opened in October 2018 as a counterpoint to the Neapolitan coffee culture – unlike the many, many bars where you sling back a shot of espresso while standing at the counter, this spot prioritizes a slow coffee.
Achille Munari, 32, fell in love with Naples when he arrived 10 years ago from Umbria and decided to stay here in our city. A brilliant guy, Achille prefers a calm, relaxed pace of life, one that allows for reflection and conversation. So he decided to set up a bar that puts his life philosophy into practice.
And the symbol of the slow life is certainly not espresso, which is quick to make and even quicker to drink, but a more relaxed coffee, one that takes time to prepare – one that allows for a real coffee break. So with the espresso machine out, Achille turned to the cuccuma (also called a cuccumella), the Neapolitan coffee machine.
It’s an unusual decision, for sure. We’re talking about a city where coffee is taken standing up, where tables are rare.
“I only own so-called Neapolitan machines,” Achille tells us, “the old cuccuma, a machine invented in France that later became the symbol of Neapolitan coffee. When it arrived in Naples, the cuccuma was made of copper. Here, however, it was redesigned with a poorer material, tin.”
The small copper tank became known as cuccumella, which is from cuccuma (from the Latin cucuma), meaning a copper or terracotta vase.
“Coffee is a philosophy here. Everything starts with the coffee bean, obviously the best coffee that can be found in our region,” Achille adds. He sources his beans from Passalacqua, a historic Neapolitan company that produces coffee of exceptional quality.
Customers can choose between two blends. The first is called Cremador, a mixture of the finest Arabica and robusta beans, with a very full-bodied taste. The second, Harem, is 100 percent Arabica and has a softer taste. Once the coffee has been selected, our Achille grinds it (thank goodness this is at least done with an electric grinder, because there is such a thing as too slow).
Achille puts the water in the lower half of the machine, then scoops coffee into the filter without compressing the grounds and screws on the top half of the machine, which has an upside down spout. He forms a true volcano, as they say here in Naples, a Vesuvius of coffee.
When the machine goes on the stove and reaches the boiling point there is a small hole from which the water comes out. At that moment, Achille flips it over. Gravity pulls the boiling water through the filter, creating a light, tasty coffee.
“Making coffee with gravity and not by steam pressure means that the coffee is never burned and so unlike the Moka pot, it is a coffee that is always good; this is why it can also be reheated at a later time,” Achille explains.
It takes a few minutes for the water to filter through the coffee, leaving time for a chat with friends.
It takes a few minutes for the water to filter through the coffee, leaving time for a chat with friends. This is the real purpose of Cuccuma Caffè: a space for hanging out and enjoying the pleasure of being together.
To preserve the coffee’s aroma during the infusion phase, our Achille covers the spout with a paper cone. It’s an important step, one that we know well because Eduardo De Filippo, the greatest Neapolitan actor in history, demonstrated it in his famous comedy These Ghosts. In the movie’s main scene, he places a paper cone on the spout of a Neapolitan coffee machine so that the aroma, the smoke and the heat of the coffee remain trapped inside rather than dissipating into the air.
While we wait, we decide to try one of the café’s excellent Neapolitan pastries. Even the baked goods here are old school, made only with natural ingredients, without chemistry, without thickeners or preservatives.
“I come here for the real Neapolitan pastiera, the old version, or the baked Neapolitan cassata, an almost extinct dessert,” says Antonio, a regular customer who has been here with his partner since we entered. The cassata is a Sicilian sweet that is normally prepared cold, whereas the Neapolitan cassata has more or less the same ingredients but is prepared in the oven.
There’s also the migliaccio, an ancient pie of sorts made with semolina, ricotta and eggs, a sweet that has almost been forgotten by the current generation.
And in the evening, Achille also prepares a Neapolitan aperitivo featuring wines and local products like taralli. Obviously there is no trace of the spritz, too modern, but in its place there are two traditional wines: the rosso frizzante from Gragnano or the Asprinio from Aversa, a white wine.
While you may have swapped coffee for wine, aperitivo is really no different than any other time at the café: Time is slowed down to rediscover and reclaim the good life.
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