Thursday, January 21, 2010

Caffe Corretto

The Espresso Break: An espresso shot with an added tablespoon of sambuca, grappa, or whiskey?  This is the best of what Neapolitans refer to as caffe corretto.  A typical caffe-bar offers a wide range of liquors from Bailey's and Jack Daniels to assorted kinds of Italian grappa.  (See my La Cucina Napoletana for more on Italian digestives.)  At ten o'clock in the morning, I see quite a few men drinking caffe corretto before heading off to work.  And, in fact, the portions are so small that the caffe has a bite, but not much more.

The tradition of correcting coffee with alcohol very likely started in the 1800's during a time when coffee became an ubiquitous beverage in Naples thanks to the caffettiere ambulante or wandering coffee peddlers.  These men yelled out to customers in the early morning hours:  "Vulite na tazzuella di caffe?"  They wore aprons and set up tables along the street replete with small burners, cups, saucers, sugar, and a bottle of rum.

Today, you can choose from a bevy of liquors, but many (especially things like Campari or Martini & Rossi) don't usually go well with espresso.  I prefer the sambuca with its licorice sweet taste.  The barista still recommends you stir in a packet of sugar, making the beverage a kind of bite-sweet-aaaah.

A Little Bit More About The Caffettiere Ambulante:  By the early 1800’s, coffee became a public ritual in Naples.  The caffettiere ambulante or the wandering coffee peddlers popularize the beverage within the region.  At that time, the bustling city of Naples included a multitude of street vendors.  The maccaronari or Neapolitan pasta makers ladled out cooked macaroni from their boiling cauldrons.  Fruit vendors came from the countryside as did the cepollari with onion and garlic hanging over their shoulders.  Pisciavinnoli or fishmongers sold their fresh catch from the sea and the pizzaivoli invented pizza, serving their new culinary snack to tourists who visited specifically lower class districts for a taste.  To this one could add the caffietterie ambulatore who yelled to customers in the early morning hours:  “Vulite na tazzuella di caffe?”  They wore aprons and set up tables along the street replete with small burners, cups, saucers, sugar and a bottle of rum.  Served with a little water to clean the palette, the coffee peddlers would serve to workers, maids, apprentices and then slip into offices, serving coffee to employees, managers, and nobles.  It was, already then, the drink of the everyman.

1 comment:

Gil said...

I just love my caffe with a drizzle of sambuca every now and then.