by Roberto Sala
Barista. His bar, the Mary’s Bar in Costa Masnaga, in the North of Italy, was set up by his great-grandparents in 1928. He was brought up surrounded by machines, bags and cups. Fifteen years ago he started his job behind the counter: from 2001, he is a coffee taster and Espresso Italiano Specialist.In February 2007, he has been appointed to the board of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters. He is the first barista who has been appointed to such a role.
Summer months in Italy are characterised by heat, normally strong heat, and some changes in the way of working at the coffee shop. If in the breakfast hours they keep following their normal habits, the same cannot be said for the afternoon. The heat leads them to look for products other than pure espresso: they still desire coffee but they want it in cool solutions such as cocktails and ice creams.
Here goes immediately one of the thoughts I feel strongly about: in these products also, even if coffee is mixed with other ingredients and somewhat it is turned into something different, it is not possible to set aside its quality. For me, it is about sensory consistency and marketing: the clients are used to having their espresso and cappuccino without negative aromatic notes, the same result must be sought after also for alternative products and the ‘summer months’ treats.
For sure also during the summer months in Italy there are dangers for coffee. Humidity which grips the long days in the centre-north of the country is enemy number one for the beans and it attacks without mercy the ground coffee. The sudden changes in the weather, the not rare sudden storms are all the same extremely dangerous, especially for the ground coffee. In addition, the impact of air conditioning, which varies according to the dimensions of the room, should not be underrated. There are, therefore, several environmental variables which must be kept under control. Hence the need to do a long, thorough job when it comes to grinding in order to be able to rely on the availability of a fresh product at all times.
Such freshness and quality are not always, a real shame, offered to the millions of foreign tourists who come and visit Italy. As a client, for example at the seaside, all too often I have bumped into a barista who did a poor job with an excellent blend. No doubts that there are real professionals, the point is that those who do a bad job cause damage to the category and leave the tourist with a negative memory. The lack of attention to the product and a superficial manner of processing it give raise to a negative marketing of Italian coffee precisely in a moment when the bars are crowded with foreign tourists who could become our main marketing agents when they go back home.
Sometimes attempts are made to ‘hide’ the low quality of the coffee behind some complicated manufactures, which, unfortunately, do not survive the taste test. Some of my foreign clients told me that they were left pleasantly surprised because they came across some nicely decorated cappuccino. A nicely-rounded heart painted in the middle of the creamy froth. The surprise was for the mouth and nose: more than being a cappuccino they were more like a latte. Thanks to the observation of these foreign tourists, let’s go back to the concept expressed here above: the basics are important, before going for weird products, artistic to varying degrees, it is best to be sure that you can master them.
(Drafted by Viviana Zini)