“With coffee you make peace”, says Antonio Cirillo as he leans against a bar in central Naples, an area that’s seen its fair share of strife.
He gestures in the air, explaining the importance of coffee to the people of Naples, among the most architecturally impressive and vibrant cities in the world.
During a recent visit we decided to dip into its coffee culture, a far cry from the light-roasted and filter preparation methods that are currently in vogue across parts of Europe and the U.S.
There were no hipsters in General Coffee on the day we visited. Despite it’s name, no one speak English. Clients like Antonio come for espresso, or to buy dark-roasted whole beans for their home and businesses.
Pietro Maione runs this small, family-owned company. He started in 1988 and knows nothing else, he says while inspecting a batch. Satisfied with its colour, he opens the door of his Italian-made roaster, releasing the coffee into the cooling tray below while a wonderful aroma fills the room.
Oils are visible on the surface of the beans, a clear indicator that they’ve been roasted beyond the point of mere sugar caramelisation.
It’s the way Pietro’s clients like it. “They want a flavour that persists in the mouth,” he says. “Complete, intense rather than strong.”
He buys beans from all over the world before mixing them into his house blends with names like Brazil, Congo and Guatemala, administered from cylinders suspended from the ceiling, an increasingly rare sight due to the growing popularity of coffee capsules. We thank him for his time and step out into the heat.
In the coming days we down dozens of espressos in the name of research. For those hunting subtle hints of jasmine or apricot from their coffee, Naples is not the place.
However coffee is everywhere here, and it’s hard to resist the pleasure of having a quick cup while standing at the bar with the morning buzz of workers all around you. Or sitting down in one of the city’s many historical cafes including Gambrinus and Scaturchio to enjoy their amazing pastries like Rhum baba, sfogliatelle and cannoli.
Coffee remains a very traditional matter in Naples. The industry operates much like it did 50 years ago, while for Neapolitans the ritual of drinking coffee like their grandparents did is a key part of daily life.
Cafés are places to meet and chat about what's happening in the neighbourhood. Who’s alive, who’s dead. Where the coffee comes from and whether it’s a blend or single origin are of secondary importance. Coffee in Naples is like that, intense and strong. A bedrock that helps to keep this vibrant city moving.