Battle of the Espresso: Is It an Italian or a Neapolitan Tradition?

| Thu, 05/13/2021 - 07:17

Is the espresso coffee ritual an Italian or a Neapolitan tradition? That is the question at the center of a debate that sees two different candidates fight for international recognition of their contributions to world coffee heritage.

Here is the debated issue: Italy is seeking world heritage status for its coffee culture from Unesco; in particular, it seeks inclusion in Unesco’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, which, as far as Italy is concerned, includes the recent addition of the ‘Art of Neapolitan Pizzaioulo,’ the ‘Mediterranean diet,’ and traditions such as dry stone walling, transhumance and big shoulder-borne processional structures.   

However, two different candidates are vying for the recognition: one is the Treviso-based (northern Italy) Consortium for the Safeguard of Traditional Italian Espresso Coffee, which claims that “il caffè espresso è una tradizione italiana,” espresso coffee is an Italian tradition, and as such it should be recognized by Unesco; the other bid came from the region of Campania, of which Naples is the regional capital, and highlights how coffee is a pillar of Naples’s own identity and the Neapolitan coffee culture unique to the city.

The Consortium for the Safeguard of Traditional Italian Espresso Coffee focuses on the all-important Italian daily ritual of drinking espresso, which, they say, has become a symbol of an entire nation.

The first inventors of the espresso machine all were from the north of Italy. In 1884, the first espresso machine was patented by Angelo Moriondo from Turin. In 1901, Luigi Bezzera, from Milan, patented an improved espresso machine. Desiderio Pavoni, also from Milan, bought Bezzera’s patent in 1903 and started to produce espresso machines in 1905 founding his own company.

The Naples candidacy focuses on the century-old local roasteries, the historic cafés, such as Caffé Gambrinus (which launched the idea for a recognition of Neapolitan espresso), and the peculiar social habits that have developed around coffee over the centuries in Naples, and that remain unique to the city: traditions such as that of ‘caffé sospeso,’ a cup of coffee paid in advance anonymously for another customer; the ‘caffé di ginocchio’, a practice that spread between 1800 and 1900, when the barista roasted used grounds again in order to sell the coffee at a reduced price to those who couldn't afford it; and ‘il caffè della consolazione,’ when neighbors and relatives give coffee as a way to comfort someone after a loss.

The response on the part of the Italian Unesco Committee upon receiving both candidacies? Come back united next year. Both candidacies were rejected and the two groups advised to present one joint candidacy next year.