The Napoletana was actually invented by a French tinsmith in 1819. Not much is known about its history beyond that, including when it was introduced to Italy. But in 1946 Eduardo De Filippo (who published thirty-nine plays and acted beside Sophia Loren in the 1954 classic L'oro di Napoli) turned the coffee pot into a Neapolitan original in his comedy Questi Fantasmi or Three Ghosts.
In the movie, Filippo sits at the balcony, presumably already having boiled the water and flipped the caffetteria napoletana over. He then waits while the water drips down through the filter and into the second pot. Pretending to talk with a professor neighbor, he explains that a paper cone put over the spout is essential. This keeps the aromas from escaping.
In the 1970’s, Alessi asked the Neapolitan architect, Riccardo Dalisi, to create a new version of the Neapolitan Flip-Over Coffee Pot. After roaming for many years through junk dealers and tin-smith shops, Dalisi’s design ended up winning the Golden Compass, the most prestigious Italian industrial design award.
Today, the neapolitana isn’t used in households as much as the moka. Mostly, it’s sold by souvenir shops as a distinctly Neapolitan trinket. Still, I have one at home and think it makes a divine cup of semi-sweet coffee. The tin pot can only be found in Campania and costs a mere 10 Euro, piu o meno.
The silent video below features my born-and-bred Neapolitan, Massimo Rossi, whose father in his younger days was a barista. Massimo demonstrates how to make the coffee by first taking apart the coffee pot parts -- a top, two pots, and a filter.
First, take the top pot and fill it with water. Next, add fine grinds to the filter and place it inside the water. Add the second pot to the top. (The pot then looks upside-down to the picture above.) Place the pot on the stove and let boil. Here's the first catch: once the macchinetta napoletana is on the stove, you can never see the water boiling. Instead, you must decide this intuitively.
When the water is ready, take the coffee pot off the stove and flip it over. This is both art and skill. In the video, Massimo makes it look easy. I tried this once and the boiling water ended up all over the floor.
When the macchinetta napoletana is flipped, the pot with the spout will then be on the bottom (and will look like the picture above). The water from the top pot slowly drips through the filter. Again, you will have to know intuitively when all the water has drained to the bottom.
In keeping with Neapolitan tradition, Massimo demonstrates how to make this in an everyday kitchen where frenetic activity, including other cooking is taking place. (The video is silent because a party that includes high-pitched children takes place in the background.)
When the coffee is finished, heaping spoonfuls of sugar are stirred into the cups.