I found via a Twitter a video produced by Romedia Studio and Umami Area entitled Coffees: Italians do it better? At the time I assumed this was a short commentary on specialty coffee in Italy, but when I sat down to watch it I realised it was more like a full length documentary (43 minutes).
Back in March I wrote a little about how Starbucks was embarking on stores in Italy. I considered why this country might be a challenge for the company due to the ingrained espresso culture, but also how there might also be opportunities due to changes taking place in Italian coffee culture.
This documentary provides a fantastic overview of contemporary Italian coffee culture, of its history, trends and transformation – acknowledging that the arrival of Starbucks might even be an opportunity.
“We didn’t discover coffee, nor did we invent it , but we did create a machine to prepare, it, in fact the espresso machine.” – A quote from the documentary which acknowledges how Italy has often historically been at the forefront of innovation in coffee, and yet as the documentary explores, Italy is a little behind some other areas of Europe in terms of embracing specialty coffee.
Speaking to experts from across the coffee industry in Italy, the documentary explores different aspects of coffee culture in Italy, from history, to espresso culture, the complexity and varieties of coffee, the importance of roasting, to the importance of barista knowledge and communication with consumers.
There are many highlights to this documentary, and I highly recommend you watch it, but a few of the points I found particular interesting were:
- The acknowledgement that barista training, knowledge and professionalism is really important for providing a gateway for consumers to the world of specialty coffee.
- “The third wave of coffee is a phenomena that has changed and is still changing the world of coffee. Not only in the preparation of espresso, but in reality the world of coffee in general. With the third wave of coffee, one speaks in a café about coffee not only of single origin, but of a single variety of coffee produced in single plantation of coffee prepared with different methods of preparation. Think of a wine shop. One goes in, there’s a sommelier, there are different types of wine, different cellars, that produce different bottles. Presently in a café, here in Italy, generally the choice is one. One single coffee, one single blend, generally just one brand. Why not thinking of offering the customer different choices? Why not collaborate and ask the barista to place next to the traditional blend they work with, maybe a single origin coffee, which is a product produced by a single counter, or even a blend with a cup profile that’s different from the other coffee blend. This, accompanied with the explanation from the barista who at the espresso machine will prepare the espresso helps and can be a determining factor for a better informed consumer, concerning the quality of coffee, and that which can be found in coffee.”
- “The commitment towards communication from those who make coffee, the trainer of coffee should be that of searching to intercept this culture and try to transform it. On the one hand into a more simple form for the consumer, and on the other, working with specialists to make them understand first of all, as then they have to transmit these concepts, what this particular significance is. And do this constantly searching to commit oneself to relate to the customer and be in tune with what is their vision is to then try to transform it.”
- The growth of Starbucks and similar coffee companies had a positive impact on Italian industry, as the introduction of the espresso into so many other countries meant the Italian coffee industry could benefit from wider appreciation of Italian espresso culture.
- “Starbucks is a force when promoting coffee regardless of good of bad quality, but in promoting coffee, in getting the customer to have an experience through coffee, something that quite often Italian cafes do not do. In an Italian café, you walk in, order a coffee, take it, pay for it, and drink it like it was medicine. In Starbucks, you can read the history of that coffee. You can see the faces of the people who made that coffee.”
- There is a growing specialty coffee industry in Italy:
- “Specialty coffee in Italy still doesn’t have a good image, but there’s a good vibe. Its growing, there’s something positive that’s being born.”
- “With Ditta Artigianale we decided to open two cafes in the very centre of Florence. This allows us to elaborate coffee and manage every small detail of service. The service of making the client live a unique experience, an unforgettable experience. Because when one speaks of an increase in price, which is 1.5 euros, when one drinks our espresso in our cafes, we should excuse this increase in price with a truly meaningful experience.”
These are just a couple of insights from the documentary which I found interesting in terms of how the coffee culture in Italy is being transformed, and might continue to be transformed in the future, but there really is a lot more to it – if you can spare a bit of time, watch it.