Decades older than both espresso and the moka pot, the cuccuma (also known as the cuccumela or the Neapolitan flip coffee pot) is a traditional Italian coffee brewing method.
Although not as well-known as the moka pot, the cuccuma has actually been a part of Italian coffee culture for much, much longer. It has long since been a staple for many Italian home coffee brewers, and can be found in many households to this day.
Read on to learn more about the history of the Neapolitan flip coffee pot, its cultural significance across Italy, and how you can use it to brew coffee.
If you want to know how to brew great pour over coffee, try this article!
A brief history of the cuccuma
The cuccuma is a reinvention of the stovetop pot created during the 1800s in France by Jean Baptiste de Belloy, the archbishop of Paris at the time.
William H. Ukers is the author of All about Coffee, a book that details historical, technical, and commercial developments in the coffee sector. He says: “It was first made of tin; but later, of porcelain and silver – the original French drip pot, [that is]. This device was never patented.”
De Belloy’s device is believed to be the first home brewing pot ever created, which led to other early brewing equipment manufacturers using it as the basis of their designs. Before this, pots were used to serve coffee, rather than brew it.
At this time, coffee was generally brewed in a similar manner to Turkish coffee brewed in a cezve – meaning very fine grounds would be brewed and consumed without a filter.
However, during the 1800s, Naples was a major trade centre in Europe and the East. At this time, coffee was already a part of high-society gatherings. Locals would often sing about coffee, praising it as the drink of “friendship and well wishes”.
The Neapolitans’ love for coffee led to the creation of the cuccuma, which soon became a feature of households all across the city. However, at this time, coffee was largely only available to the upper classes.
Over time, as it became more accessible among other social classes in Italy, use of the cuccuma increased. Today, many still regard it as a practical, cost-effective, and reliable method of brewing coffee.
In Naples and throughout the region of Campana – where the word “cuccuma” originates from – the pot is not just a coffee brewing method, but also as a symbol of Naples’ distinct and unique coffee culture. Some of the other names used to refer to the cuccuma are “Napoletana” (Neapolitan), “caffettiera napoletana”, (Neapolitan coffee maker), and even just “la macchinetta” (the machine).
Design & functionality
Simone Amenini is the Head and Managing Barista at Ditta Artigianale, a chain of specialty coffee stops based in Florence, Italy. “Until the advent of the Moka pot (patented by Alfonso Bialetti in 1933), the cuccuma was the favorite coffee brewing method for preparing coffee at home. This was due to [it] being easy to use, and above all, not expensive,” Simone explains.
The Neapolitan flip coffee pot functions differently to its precursor French drip pot, thanks to its unique design. It also typically comes with a horn-shaped spout. This is often broken – accidentally or intentionally – which is considered to be a sign of good luck.
The classic Neapolitan cuccuma was first made from copper, but the material of choice switched to aluminium in the late 19th century. “It [was] made of aluminum, due to its [lower cost] and ease of manufacture. Only in recent times we [now] have steel cuccumas, and copper has become popular again,” Simone adds.
The pot itself consists of several parts: first, the boiler (caldaietta), which comes with a wooden handle attached and makes up the bottom section of the pot. After that, there is a cylindrical canister which contains a perforated microfilter and slots into the lower section. Finally, there is the upper section with the spout, and the lid.
Brewing guide & measurements
In Neapolitan coffee shops, baristas often work with roasters to craft blends which will cater to local tastes and preferences. These blends are often made with robusta blends to give the coffee a thicker, heavier mouthfeel. They also add a pronounced layer of crema and a more intense flavour.
The cuccuma typically uses dark roasts. According to Simone, “this gives the brew notes of toasted, dark chocolate and a rather bitter aftertaste”.
The amount of coffee to use with a cuccuma will vary depending on personal taste. However, Simone recommends using a ratio of 18g coffee to 200ml water. Use a medium to medium-fine grind, but note that the finer you grind, the more intense and bitter the brew will be.
Simone believes that a medium grind is ideal for brewing, and notes that the cuccuma can also be used with lighter roasts. “This way, the result in the cup will be very similar to the [profile] obtained from a siphon, for instance,” he says.
Although the exact instructions are similar to those for a moka pot, there are some key differences for brewing with a cuccuma.
Follow the steps below:
- Fill the boiler (lower section) to three-quarters capacity with filtered water.
- Drop the filter into the boiler and then add your ground coffee into the filter.
- Close the screw cap, and attach the upper section with the spout, making sure the spout is pointed downwards.
- Place on the stove on a low-medium heat to avoid burning the coffee.
- Turn off the heat when the cuccuma begins to steam.
- At this point, turn the pot upside down and let the water percolate through the filter. This should take about 2 to 3 minutes, but for larger quantities or bigger pots, it will naturally be longer.
What’s the difference between the cuccuma and the moka pot?
Some might think the cuccuma and the moka pot look similar at first glance. However, Simone says that the differences go beyond just its appearance. The two methods actually brew coffee in two completely different ways.
“The cuccuma [brews coffee through] percolation, where the hot water drips through the coffee and filters into the lower container,” he explains.
In contrast, with the moka pot, the water doesn’t percolate; instead, the pressure within the boiling water in the lower chamber forces it upwards through the coffee.
This pressurised extraction takes place under more intense circumstances. This in turn causes the coffee to be heavier, with a thicker mouthfeel and more body, almost like an espresso.
Simone believes that the cuccuma provides the brewer with more scope to experiment at home. For instance, despite recommendations that the cuccuma should be heated on the stove, Simone says that it doesn’t need to be.
“I don’t use the lower boiler [of the pot],” he explains. “I immediately [flip] the cuccuma upside down, and pour 94°C water directly into the filter from an electric kettle.”
Could the cuccuma grow and become more popular among coffee lovers beyond the Mediterranean? Simone says: “Certainly! Besides being very easy to use, it is fun to brew with it; it lets you play with many different variables.”
Ultimately, this classic brewing method has so much potential. Despite its similarities with the moka pot, the coffee it produces couldn’t be more different. So if you do encounter it, in Italy or elsewhere around the world, give it a try. It might surprise you!
If you enjoyed this, check out our beginner’s guide on how to brew coffee at home.
Perfect Daily Grind
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