Call it coffee, caffè, espresso, the caffeinated brew that brings pleasure to its drinkers. The plant originated in Ethiopia and spread to the Near East. In the 16th century it appeared in Europe landing in Italy via Venice. I can’t imagine a time when coffee bars didn’t exist here.
In Naples, the love for coffee runs deep, it seems to be genetic. In fact most Neapolitans have a moka pot of the fresh brew on standby from morning until late afternoon. The ritual of making and drinking coffee is such a central part of Italian life. The sweet caramel scent of beans roasting and just pulled caffè artfully decorated with frothy milk wafts over city streets, train stations and clings to lapels.
In times of hardship, Italians may forgo many luxuries but coffee at their local bar is not one of them. During World War II coffee was hard to come by. It was often home roasted in bassi – characteristic street level houses that spill onto narrow shadowed lanes.
It was during WWII that the Neapolitan tradition of a caffè sospeso, or suspended coffee, flourished. Customers would drink one coffee but pay for two leaving the second coffee as a gift for people who were less fortunate. This tradition has seen a revival in recent years in the period of crisis.
Although the word espresso means fast it also means made for you on the spot. Water forced through freshly ground coffee beans extracts oils and aroma delivering a luscious crema and an adrenaline rush. Here are our tips for where to have coffee in Naples and where to leave a caffè sospeso if you’re so inclined.
Centrale del Caffè is a modern coffee bar with three locations one of which is in the historic center. Sit down for a cappuccino and brioche at breakfast or stand at the bar and knock back an espresso after lunch. Buy the expertly roasted “Espresso Napoletano” blend of beans to go. It tastes and smells of chocolate and spices. If you prefer a lighter nuttier blend try the “Santos”.
Gran Caffè Gambrinus – Open since 1816, this opulent Art Nouveau (Liberty) style café was a meeting point for international authors and actors during the Belle Époque. Sit down at one of the outdoor or indoor tables for a luxurious experience. Caffè strapazzato – espresso topped with sweet coffee cream and dusted with dark cocoa – is the drink to order here.
Il Vero Bar del Professore – This family operation has been cranking out luscious coffee since 1977. The founder’s son Raffaele Ferrieri is more than happy to speak about the history of Il Professore, his family and their coffee creations. After a chat with Raffaele, stand at the counter for a caffè alla nocciola in cialda (espresso topped with hazelnut cream served in a tiny wafer cup).
Passalacqua at Bar Mexico – Bar Mexico is a beloved chain of Neapolitan bars serving up Passalacqua coffee. Just a five-minute walk from the Naples Central Train Station, the Piazza Dante spot is casual, offering stand-up service only to its loyal local clientele. Slide up to the forest green, burnt orange and midnight blue tiled bar where uniformed baristas pull silky shots of espresso from an orange La San Marco manual lever machine. Enjoy a caffè caldo zuccherato o amaro – sweetened or unsweetened hot espresso – accompanied by a glass of still or sparkling water.
Would you like to explore the Naples coffee scene guided by a local food expert? Consult our Naples page for inspiration!
Gina Tringali – food lover, certified sommelier, coffee connoisseur, and passionate home cook – is a successful freelance food and travel writer and blogger based between Rome and Southern Italy. She is committed to discovering and sharing with fellow food enthusiasts Italy’s best culinary and wine experiences.