From rogue to bartender | Gran Caffè Gambrinus

Article written by Michele Sergio and published in L’Espresso Neapolitan of October 2019

The professionalism and skill of its bartenders have greatly contributed to making Naples the coffee capital of the world. If in the shadow of Partenope we drink more “cups” than in any other part of the world, it is certainly for that happy mix of mixture and water that made the Neapolitan espresso unique, but also for the profuse mastery in the preparation of the coffee by the legendary Neapolitan bartenders. Extremely skilled at the machine – the one used in Neapolitan bars is not the classic continuous dispenser (so to speak with the button) but the lever one, more difficult to adjust and use – cordial with the patrons, skilled in creating new recipes and serving, make the coffee break special, transforming the act of consuming a drink into a special and pleasant experience, certainly to be renewed from time to time.

Many of these people who, with seriousness, dedication and imagination, have made artistic what, at first glance, would seem an ordinary and simple work task, come from the street, becoming scugnizzi, serious and prepared professionals of coffee. This is the case of Raffaele Rocchetti, class ’59, bartender of Gambrinus for over 20 years. We interviewed him to tell us about his life and work experience.

D) Hi Raffaele, can you tell us something about your adolescence?
R) I come from Posillipo. After the loss of my parents when I was still a child, I went to live in Via Gianturco with three aunts. I dedicated myself, like many of my peers, to many activities: at school in the morning, I spent the afternoon playing with my friends at soccer, table football, but also at ping-pong and on Sundays, I served mass as an altar boy and I sang in the choir of my parish. I felt like a street urchin, I liked the street but maybe I wasn’t.

D) How did your business start?
R) My first job was that of a mechanical turner, I worked at a large lathe, producing pressure valves and precision measuring tools such as gauges. I reached the age of military service in aeronautics, first in Taranto and then in Pozzuoli.

Q) And when did the bartender start doing it?
R) Once the leverage is over, we are in the 80s, I approached the bar world because I had always had a passion for coffee. I started at the bar of Santa Lucia par excellence, the Tourist. There I had the good fortune to meet an expert bartender, Vincenzo Santaro, of whom I have a wonderful memory, who took me in his will and revealed the tricks of the trade and the secrets of Neapolitan coffee. He was so good and experienced Don Vincenzo that when, just before retirement, he had vision problems, he could find the point of grinding the coffee powder with just his touch, touching it with the fingertips.

Q) When did you become an established bartender?
R) Towards the second half of the 1990s I had the opportunity to work for Gambrinus, the most important coffee shop in our city, and it was in this local restaurant that I could not only refine the art of coffee but also grow professionally and culturally, attending cafeteria courses. After all, in this work, but as I imagine, everyone never stops learning.

D) Tell us about the contributions you have made to the Neapolitan coffee shop and if you remember any prestigious customers you have served coffee.
A) One day I proposed to my customers the Caffè Babà, a special union between café and pastry shop and it was immediately successful. Perhaps this is the coffee I am most attached to. As for the relationship with our customers, given that for me they are all the same and important, I had the honor and pleasure of preparing coffee for Pippo Baudo, Valeria Marini, Belen Rodriguez and Stefano De Martino and, above all , to Pope Francis on the occasion of his visit to Naples.

D) Thanks Raffaele, congratulations and good work!
R) God forbid. The Gambrinus appearance for a coffee. If you like coffee, I’ll make you a mouth-watering cream of milk!