In Italy, an 'Act of War' Over Espresso

A bid for UN acknowledgement is foiled by a feud between north and south
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 24, 2021 11:00 AM CDT

(Newser) – Coffee is serious business in Italy, and espresso in particular. Drinking it "is a way of life," per a post at euronews. No big surprise, then, that the nation is seeking to have its espresso tradition enshrined as a unique cultural treasure by a UN agency. But as the Wall Street Journal explains, the effort has been hamstrung by a civil war of sorts. A group in the north submitted a bid to UNESCO that would honor the espresso tradition of all of Italy. But a group in the south submitted a bid of its own asking that the specific coffee culture of Naples and the surrounding region be the one that is recognized. UNESCO threw up its hands, rejected both nominations, and has asked the two groups to figure it out and return with a united bid. Based on the sentiments expressed in the story, that might not be too easy.

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The view from the south: "Neapolitan culture can't be understood without coffee," says anthropologist Marino Niola of Naples. "If you imagine Naples as a body, coffee is the blood flowing through it." He calls the northern bid an "act of war." And the view from the north: "They want to say that coffee comes from Naples, but such prevarication is unacceptable," says Giorgio Caballini, founder of a consortium behind the northern bid. "It means appropriating something which isn't only theirs. It is also theirs." Advocates for Naples cite cultural traditions surrounding espresso in the region, particularly one known as the "suspended cup." Patrons pay for their cup, then leave enough extra to pay for somebody else's. A 161-year-old cafe in Naples has begun a petition on behalf of the southern bid that has more than 40,000 signatures so far. Caballini's take: "I am not going to give away a part of the name in favor of a small part of Italy." (Read more espresso stories.)

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