How can an incompetent barista do any good?

by Luigi Odello

Secretary General of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters, he is also a lecturer at the University of Udine, Verona and at the Cattolica in Piacenza. In addition he is the Chairman of the Taster Study Center and Secretary General of the Italian Espresso National Institute

Several of us kept asking ourselves the question during the course for the managers of the permanent training centres of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters  which was held not long ago in Brescia.

One of the attendees told us that during his training courses he has the habit of telling to the barista who gives him a wrong espresso: “If your coffee is like this, I wish your clients did not pay you”. Several people stressed that the barista who is not able to select the right blend and process it with expertise does not only a wrong to the world of coffee, thus encouraging alternative consumption, but also does a wrong to his colleagues in that the clients lose their passion for the coffee shop.
Therefore, an incompetent barista does harm to the roasters who market a good quality blend, to his own coffee shop, to his colleagues and, it goes without saying, to consumers.

Expressed in these terms, the situation seems to be extremely negative. Let us try and give a look at things from a different point of view. The espresso is without doubts the most difficult way to prepare coffee. It makes it possible to have the highest level of extraction of the contents of the cells – both good and bad – of approximately 50 coffee beans. In addition, it gives the highest concentration of the active sensory components. More than that: the quality of the blend is inversely connected with the ease of preparation. Put it in other words: the higher the quality, the more difficult it is to extract it in the right way. This is for sure an element of  decline of the coffee from the coffee shop: the barista wants an easy blend, the roaster might as well be happy because he save on the resources necessary to produce it, the consumer is left unsatisfied and moves on to alternative consumption or to preparing coffee at home or at the workplace. The coffee shop loses resources and its staff is less and less qualified.

Efforts should be made to try and reverse this vicious cycle into a virtuous cycle: reward the baristas who do an excellent job, stimulate their ambition, make them feel professionals. In this respect, the Italian Espresso National Institute  is doing a good job in that it has qualified more than 2.500 coffee shop operators. No doubts that also competitions are stimulating. But do these competitions really go in the right direction and do they really use assessment mechanisms which make it possible to reliably define the barista who is able to prepare a cup of perfect espresso? Trying to tackle this issue thoroughly would lead us very far away from the topic we started debating.
Falling back into line: just as the success of wine has been driven by the efforts to improve quality through bitter criticism and self-criticism, by the same token, the future of the espresso at the coffee shop rests in the hands of three components of the process: the machines manufacturer, the roaster and the barista. Of the three, the barista is the most important in that the barista is able to influence the other two. Nowadays, in any ‘trattoria’ a corky bottle of wine is immediately replaced with the apologies of the owner. Unfortunately, this is not what happens at the coffee shop with a flawed cup of coffee.

The anger of the excluded

by Luigi Odello

Secretary General of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters, he is also a lecturer at the University of Udine, Verona and at the Cattolica in Piacenza. In addition he is the Chairman of the Taster Study Center and Secretary General of the Italian Espresso National Institute

Without competition, there can be no improvement. This is a genetics law but it is true also for the business world. However, many companies in the coffee sector are not that keen on competition, especially if it is on the sensory impact of the blends. Think about wine, a product from which coffee should draw inspiration if it wants to a step further towards the life of consumers. There is an incredible number of guides with all sorts of comments – expressed in differing ways – valuations at exaggerated rhythms and competitions with tens of editions left behind.

In our business, the International Institute of Coffee Tasters has recently finalised an unprecedented investigation on quality at the bar: 907 surveys in bars in the entire Italian territory, 20 bars in he city centre of Milan and Rome examined by means of the environment and sensory analysis.

On the one hand, the joy of the winners has been expressed in quiet tones, on the other, the anger of the excluded has been strong to the extent that the poorly appeased acrimony reached the governing bodies of major institutions. We should be happy about this because it is anyhow a reaction which means that something will happen. We would like this to turn into food for thought for everybody on what to do to improve rather than to boil down to plain expression of sorrow.

These are our thoughts while we are busy with the organisation of another big event at an International level: the second edition of International Coffee Tasting. The first edition, in 2006, was a success. Not only in terms of the number of attendees. Some companies bought entire pages on newspapers to advertise the award they won. Other participants asked if it was possible to display the logo of the competition on their product. Let alone the company that received an order of coffee from a big Dutch agent in order to supply 5000 families with the gold medal product.

International Coffee Tasting is the first and only competition in the world of this kind. Its rules are based on the strict rules applied to wine tasting and defined by the International Organisation of Vines and Wine. Expert tasters from the International Institute of Coffee Tasters taste, anonymously, the coffee and the data is processed with the support of the most modern statistics techniques.

What else can be done? Well, we are already aware that the anger of the excluded will show once again.

Innovation, evolution or revolution?

by Luigi Odello

Secretary General of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters, he is also a lecturer at the University of Udine, Verona and at the Cattolica in Piacenza. In addition he is the Chairman of the Taster Study Center and Secretary General of the Italian Espresso National Institute

In the next few years it will not be easy to keep up with innovation in the coffee sector, but, no doubts, it will be a fascinating time. In this issue of Coffee Taster, we shall deal with sensorial trends and what the big companies say with regard to the methods they use to monitor quality. Not far from now, at EISday2008, the annual conference of the Italian Espresso National Institute on the 24th of February, we will focus on the findings of the biggest ever research which has been conducted into the quality of coffee.
This is precisely what made us think about evolution/innovation in our sector: how many operators are ready to benefit from it? And how many will suffer from heavily negative consequences? The fact is that, outside the micro cosmos of each operator, there is a world which is changing at an unbelievable pace, but many people seem not to realise this.
Many producing country are moving towards a European-type of qualification of their productions. This will lead them to offering a better product and to wanting more money. At home people will increasingly use single-dose coffee or coffee in beans as a result of the existence of new technology machines which are more reliable and effective. People at home will drink a better quality coffee and the same will happen at the workplace. At home, and perhaps even at the restaurant, coffee will be part of a new ritual: single origins coffees will become more and more popular, a pleasure to share with friends, maybe extracted with a moka pot so that you can actually see the coffee coming.
It is, therefore, reasonable to wonder whether roasters and, especially, baristas are ready for this. The former will find themselves dealing with producers of green coffee and with a different style of coffee consumption, both inside communities and at home. Most probably, those who have not done it yet will have to establish direct contacts with the producers of green coffee, meet a new type of demand for home consumption and for serving and take care of their coffee bars – currently suffering from a reduction in consumption which could become even worse in future – in Italy with a different approach. For many Italian roasters, coffee bars are a strategic sector which is being governed by new mechanisms. The methods for attracting clients and handling them will change. The magic word will be training.
The International Institute of Coffee Tasters, which has always adopted this approach, is currently a reference point at an international level – with a tested method and with effective training instruments. Through its research activity, it is also an attentive observer of the evolution of consumption and quality of coffee as well as the relevant machinery. In 2008, in addition, we will have a new edition of “International Coffee Tasting”: could there be a better occasion for monitoring world evolution?

Coffee Taster: our voice

by Sergio Cantoni, chairman of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters

In 2007 the International Institute of Coffee Tasters (Iiac) celebrates its 15th anniversary. Its results are flattering: more than 5.000 registered members from all five continents, more than 500 ‘didactic’ events in most European countries – but also Japan and South America – a book on coffee tasting methods which has been translated into English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Russian – and will be soon translated into Japanese and Korean, tens of tasting sessions and at least as many conferences.
All this makes us proud and it is, first and foremost, the reason which lead the Iiac to promote this newsletter: we have important messages that we want to put across to a world that is rapidly changing. Indeed, coffee is no longer a mere commodity for an inattentive consumer. On the contrary, it actually is a beverage that is brilliantly matching knowledge and taste.
We are taking our distance from the idea of the species and the origins seen as generalisations of quality. The values coming from the combination between territory and sensory characteristics of the finished product are now being devoted new attention. Put it in other words, luckily enough, the times when the consumer asks the supplier to know more about the product, where it comes from, its composition and how it is prepared and, afterwards, comes up with a severe verdict by resorting to sensory abilities are now at the horizon. The espresso is no longer only made in Italy; whenever it is called “Italian” it must have specific characteristics, otherwise, it will just be an espresso from Seattle or somewhere else. The moka coffee will no longer be the classic brick that takes you up in paradise (thinking about the ad running on TVs), it will become increasingly a blend qualified by a specific narrative thread. In the wake of this, those who do not keep themselves always up-to-date and at high professional levels will lose their competitiveness. Our ambition, with Coffee Taster, is to make our small contribution to this sort of evolution which involves us directly. Therefore, this newsletter will deal with topical subjects and scientific research with an eye to sensory analysis. As Galileo used to say, there is no knowledge without the sensory experience.