Thursday, November 19, 2009

Neapolitan Flip-Over Coffee Pot

Offering a cup of coffee to guests in your home is essential to Neapolitan culture. For any warm gathering, Neapolitans have their own coffee pot known as the macchinetta Napoletana.

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. 


Scintilla @ Bell'Avventura said...

I use this type of cafettiera everyday. I prefer it to the espresso. Though I cheat a little and don't pack it with coffee so it's not as strong!

Barbara Zaragoza said...

Fantastic! Truth be told, I went ahead and bought myself a snazzy electric Via Veneto espresso maker that gives me the 'schiuma' on top of my shot. I can also make cappucinos with it. So I use the Neapolitan Flip Coffee Pot for when guests come over as a kind of novelty. I know you can use coarser grinds to get 'caffe americano' as well. It's versatile for sure.

Ciao and thanks for writing!

Gabe said...

"... you can never see the water boiling. Instead, you must decide this intuitively"
Well not quite. On many models, often there is a little groove on the water container just above the screw-on strainer and a little hole on the outside pot the water hisses out of when the water begins to boil!

Barbara Zaragoza said...

A wonderful tidbit, Gabe! Now I will be on the hunt for the different models that exist in and around Naples.


Gil said...

My father and most of my Neapolitan relatives have used a Neapolitan Flip since the 1950's in NYC. I still have one that my grandfather brought home from Naples in the late 1950's for my Dad. I'm spoiled and use an electric Mokka.

Barbara Zaragoza said...

Hi Gil!

Are you sure it was the flip-over pot that your father used in the 1950's? Or would it be the Moka? Because my research showed that the flip-over pot was only invented in the 1980's -- and inspired by something similar to what the French had.

Your comment, therefore, is extremely intriguing to me. The history of the flip-over goes far deeper than we think? Thanks for writing!


Gil said...

Hi Barbara, I think that the Moka is the newer of the two. The pots in my kitchen and the kitchens of most of my family are flip pots.\


Barbara Zaragoza said...

Fascinating. The only history I could find for the flip pots was on Wikipedia where it says: "It has been claimed that the Neapolitan flip pot is ultimately of French origin.[1] Southern Italian Riccardo Dalisi redesigned this classic for Alessi. He began his research in 1979 and earned international attention when his design entered into production in 1987."

Beyond that, I can't find any mention of its creation... and yet you've had them in your house since well before then. There must be a better history somewhere...

Leta said...


I'm rather new to your blog, but wow am I loving it! My husband, two children, and I live in Naples and we love it. We've visited Capua (thanks to you) several times, one of our favorite places to see! I love looking at your blog for different ideas of places all of our family will enjoy! I'm on the look for inexpensive trips around the area, we're thinking about the science museum. I don't want to just sit and wait until we go off on vacation somewhere, I want to explore Naples to its fullest! Thank you again for all the information you've posted!!

Barbara Zaragoza said...

Thanks Leta! And nice to meet you on-line!

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Anonymous said...

I have a "Napoletano" that belonged to my grandparents back in the mid-1940s. It's aluminum with Bakelite handles and is the type with the groove and hole...which I believe is the everyday design for this pot. I don't know exactly what research Dalisi started in 1979 but the flip-over stovepot espresso pot was already the most common coffeemaker in Italian kitchens even before the 1950s, so I kind of doubt the attribution to the French for the design.

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Jos said...

Do you know where I can buy a sensibly priced flip coffee maker on line in Italy or eleswhere - the alessi one is the only one that comes up in the UK and that is a bit pricey - Maybe a trip to Naples for a 10 Euro one would be better and cheaper!!

Barbara said...

Hi Jos!

Unfortunately, I know of no place (on-line or otherwise) where you can buy the tin Neapolitan Flip-Over Coffee Pot. I have only seen them in Naples and haven't found a store that sells them on-line... but this Christmas Time I will look once again since so many have asked me.


etr420 said...

Thanks for the informative article. I have the Riccardo Dalisi Alessi pot - bought new for a song at a department store because they lost the instructions and didn't know how to explain its use. Makes really lovely, smooth, quite strong coffee. Interestingly the flip over coffee post seems to be the default in Southern India where coffee is grown and very popular. Lots of little tinsmiths make them in various sizes. Sometimes the breakfast coffee is made the night before, to drip overnight, and gently reheated for breakfast.

I get the impression from Alberto Alessi's book "The Dream Factory" that Dalisi's machine may not have been a cash cow: 8 years and 200 prototypes!

cftiam2012 said...

While looking for information on the flip-over I've recently found, I stumbled upon you and your video. I thank you for it as I had no idea how to operate this cute little pot safely.
Mine is older than the one in the video and incised on the bottom simply "Italian Style". It's made of tin or aluminum and there's a design of what looks to be a ferris wheel and bows on both sides of both pieces.
I was going to put it up for sale on eBay and was doing research to determine origin and age and was very happy to have found your blog and subsequent comments. Do you, by chance, have any additional information about this particular little cutie I've found or can you direct me to someone who may? Please let me know. I can be contacted at the address below. Thank you so much.
Cindy @