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10/1/2012
Francesco Sanapo
My article for BeanScene Magazine: "The next generation of italian coffee"

When I first spoke with BeanScene magazine about writing an article, I was clear that I wanted the title to be: ‘The next generation of Italian coffee’.

I think this title might sound a bit provocative, as if I wasn’t paying tribute to Italy’s strong tradition of coffee history.

Let me explain. For me, coffee represents a real life style. I love my job, and I don’t think I could do anything different than this. A barista is not just an elegant guy who pushes a button and then serves an espresso to his customer. A barista is someone who knows the coffee chain, studies the coffee plants and its varieties. He or she must know the harvest times,cultivation and roasting processes. And only as the last step must he or she know how to prepare a good cappuccino and latte art. I would use the word barista only for a professional who knows all these aspects of the job. I think that Italy’s strong espresso tradition has actually been a handicap in bringing our profession to this next level. Because we have such a long-standing tradition, we’ve been consistently exposed to baristas all our lives. It’s nothing foreign to us, so we wouldn’t think twice of stepping behind a machine. In countries that have only taken up espresso-culture in the last decade or so, the workings of an espresso machine was something very foreign. In northern Europe and the United Kingdom, they put a lot of work into studying how to make an espresso. And I think that now their professional standards are better as a result. Italians have been deluding themselves for too long about their glorious past, and in the meanwhile they have not stepped forward to keep up with modern trends in specialty coffee.

What I would like to do now is bring this enthusiasm from my experience abroad, and this fresh view of coffee, back to Italy. In the countries I’ve visited so far, the coffee culture is more connected with young people. I would like to see coffee companies engage in more lively communication and see the most updated extraction techniques implemented in our renowned coffee houses. People in Italy are starting to change.

I’m seeing first-hand that Italians want more information, when they learn about new coffee, they start to open their eyes to the modern ways. Take my father, for instance. I have drunk coffee with my father my entire life. Here I am now, an Italian Barista Champion, and when I gave my father some of my best coffee, he told me he didn’t like it. His palate, like many Italians, was accustomed to the old way of tasting coffee. After two or three days of consistently serving him some of my coffee, however, he started to come around. Why? Because it’s easy to recognise quality. Once you’ve tasted quality, when you get that mouthfeel in a cup, you can’t go back.

I believe that in Italy 40 years ago, we had much better coffee than we do today. If you think about it, micro-roasting – which has now emerged as a major trend in specialty coffee – was the norm inItaly half a century ago. All the roasters were micro-roasters. People who worked in coffee back then did so because they loved it. Today, I don’t believe many Italians enter the coffee industry because they love it. Today, coffee has become too much of a business.

For this community, roasters produce coffee merely as a business product, and others open up a caffetteria(Italian café) only to see how much money they can make from the shop.

When I first started my blog five years ago, I believe this was the situation throughout most of Italy. Espresso was no longer an Italian product. You could travel to Australia, the United Kingdom, or America, and find much better espresso, and these countries were leading the specialty coffee trends. My Italian coffee blog barely received any hits, and I felt alone in my quest for a fresh take on Italian espresso. As I suggest in my title, however, I believe that finally something is changing.

A new coffee community is seeing coffee not only as a business product, but as a real passion that they need to learn about. Today, I get thousands of hits on my blog. Almost daily, I have another young barista email me who is keen to learn about coffee and pursue it as a career. It’s so amazing the see this young generation step forward and express their interest. Last year I organised the first Pausa Caffe Festival in Italy. As a celebration of all things coffee, I highlighted my favourite beans, and received so much incredibile enthusiasm from many up-and-coming baristas. I’ve also organised three workshops, and for each one I had so many baristas signing up, I had to close down registration. So how has this sudden change come about? In my involvement with the World Barista Championships (WBC), I’m certain that this competition scene has played a key role in improving the profile and reigniting that passion for coffee. Young people are watching these competitions on You Tube, they know what’s happening around the world. For me, the WBC has been a wonderful community that helps increase the quality of coffee and increase coffee knowledge. All these young people look up to these WBC champions, Australians like Scottie Callaghan and Matt Perger, and all of a sudden being a barista is something to aspire to.

As for my own plans, in the short term I would like to keep visiting places where coffee is grown and choose my favourite ones to bring back home. Next year, I’ll be returning to the competition scene, and hopefully make my way to the WBC in Melbourne in 2013.

In the long term I would like to run my own coffee house in Florence, to show people this new way to enjoy coffee. I would like to encourage them to discover these new flavours. I think that people need a driver to show them the way, and being at the coalface, speaking one on one with coffee drinkers, is the best way to reach them. Just as I convinced my father of the new way of drinking coffee, I want to be international and bring the influence of the world’s specialty coffee scene to Italy.

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