Coffee challenges Asian markets with International Coffee Tasting Asia 2013


International Coffee Tasting, the coffee competition from the International Institute of Coffee Tasters (Iiac), is poised to conquer the world. International Coffee Tasting Asia 2013 will in fact be held in Tokyo this November. After four editions organized in Italy, the competition moves to one of the most definitely interesting areas for the world of coffee: Asia.

The rules and methods implemented will be the same that helped International Coffee Tasting succeed so far: completely blind tastings performed by Iiac tasters and statistic validation of data. Only the winners will be announced (those who ranked in the first 30 %), the others will still receive a sensory profile and their placement so that they will be adequately informed about their performance (in this sense, the competition is also a useful market research).

"The big difference is that the tasting commissions will be made up exclusively of Asian Iiac tasters: Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese, Chinese," says the President of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters Luigi Odello, "Here is the real value of this competition: a sensorial evaluation performed by professionals who operate in arguably the most interesting export markets of the moment."

Many of the past winners have told us how being able to claim an International Coffee Tasting Gold Medal supported their export business. An award won in Asia for the Asian market could therefore have very important value.

Regulations and the application form are available at

Lessons under the green tree

by Carlo Odello

Trainer and member of the board of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters

The world of coffee shops in Italy is afflicted by a widespread lack of planning. A small number of coffee shop owners know their business and are able to plan and are joined by hordes of operators living hand to mouth. Although outside Italy the situation is not always at its best, it really depends on the country taken into account, you generally meet sharper operators who think in real terms of marketing.

GREENTREECaffè is one of these cases. Vittorio Ventura and Dana Hruba have created a chain of coffee shops in Bratislava; to be precise, five coffee shops in only two and a half years, in a very competitive market such as Bratislava. The Slovakian capital has only half a million inhabitants but is a remarkable tourist crossroads surrounded by Vienna, Prague and Budapest. This is why at least two other chains other than GREENTREECaffè exist, everyday playing “the coffee battle” in the city. It is obvious that the staff at GREENTREECaffè plays on Italian espresso and related products.

GREENTREECaffè is now the first Permanent Training Point of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters in Central Europe. The coffee shop in Venturska, with a splendid room with hundred-year-old vaults, within the last few days has entered into the International Institute of Coffee Taster’s network, bringing the number of the Permanent Training Points to 28 (four of which are outside of Italy: Stuttgart, Dneperpetrovsk, Tokyo and now Bratislava). To inaugurate the Institute new embassy, on Saturday 5th November a Espresso Italiano Tasting course was held to license new coffee tasters, which followed the course held last year by GREENTREECaffè. 

Vittorio Ventura receives the plaque for the GREENTREECaffè’s new Permanent Training Point in Bratislava. Photos of the new PTP are available on our Facebook page.

Italian Baristas, a little celebrity and a little voodoo

by Carlo Odello *

In New York I recently had the pleasure of meeting Anne Nylander and Neil Oney, President and Vice President respectively of Tamp Tamp, a consulting and training company for the coffee business.  They have a blog from which you can get a good cross-section of coffee reality in the Big Apple (and not only that).  And in this blog, there recently appeared a discussion about that which was effectively defined as Voodoo Barista.  Who is this figure?   Here is a synthetic and effective description: he works in an inconsistent manner, wastes resources, isn’t able to dose the correct amount of coffee in the filter and to tamp it with careful detail, he becomes confused doing all of this and in the end, tries to somehow pour an espresso.

In California in April, I attended an interesting debate in which the coffee trends of the American market were highlighted.  Among these trends emerged, more and more explosively, the Celebrity Barista.  He can tell you to go to hell.  Let me explain myself: if you enter his place and as good Italians you ask him for something that doesn’t quite fit his vision of coffee, at the least he will give you a dirty look, maybe not even prepare it for you.  This is because he, (or she as I have seen in New York) is the star of his or her coffee shop, and how dare anyone ask for a variation on his or her theme: he or she decides what you should drink.

Now in Italy, not to miss out on anything, we find ourselves at the mercy of these baristas, half Celebrity and half Voodoo.  That is to say at the mercy of Mr. Know-it-alls who are in reality some big bunglers.  A precise statistic doesn’t exist on how many there are, but certainly they are not rare.

* Trainer and member of the board of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters

Two Americas, two Italies

by Carlo Odello *

Consumer Reports, operating in the field of mass consumption product assessment in the United States since 1936, have just tested 37 leading coffee blends on offer on the American market. Their report reads:

None of the 37 caffeinated and decaffeinated varieties tested by Consumer Reports coffee experts earned an Excellent or Very Good rating.

And that would be fair, as we know that the American market is accustomed to all sorts of products, mainly of mediocre quality (mind, the same could be said about us). The following statement is less convincing:

However, java lovers can still find at least a few Good cups of coffee. Starbucks House Blend and Green Mountain Signature Nantucket Blend Medium Roast perked to the top of the 14 caffeinated blends that earned a Good rating from Consumer Reports.

At 26 and 23 cents per cup respectively, both the Starbucks House Blend and Green Mountain Signature Nantucket Blend Medium Roast offer a good combination of taste and price. Both have an earthy, woody taste, but Starbucks was found to be a fairly bitter to very bitter darker roast, while the Green Mountain has green/sharp flavor.

In other words, the findings point out that, despite their earthy and woody aroma, Starbucks and Green Mountain lead the ranking of the tested coffees. Which could make sense, as such blends might at any rate be the less unappealing in the ambit of American coffee for mass consumption. But it is surprising to find out that Consumer Reports’ assessment is however positive. That means that two intolerable faults, such as earthy and woody aromas, are tolerated after all.

Such America is absolutely different from the one influenced by the Third Wave (or is it already Fourth Wave?) and by specialty coffee which, leaving aside some twisted principles, pursue total quality. And by no means equal to those Italians who continue proposing high level products, either exported from fatherland or produced in the States by operators of Italian descent.

Yet if, as we love doing, we compare ourselves to the United States we will realise that mediocrity is promoted by many in our country, too. And that such people, forgive me if I sound a little old fashioned, are active in educating the mass to appreciate faulty and disappointing coffee. This time the States do not rank first.

* Trainer and member of the board of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters

Coffitalia 2008: the world of coffee within reach

Coffitalia 2008, the new yearbook dedicated to coffee in Italy, recently published by Beverfood, provides the picture and an update of the entire sector with precise and careful references to the markets, competition, the companies and the products.

The first section, dedicated to markets and products, starts off by focusing on the International business of coffee. Aspects such green production, import-export, consumption, price dynamics and International players as are dealt with. All this is followed by a detailed profile of the Italian market. This section also comprises some articles on the geography of coffee, sensory analysis of espresso and the machinery as well as an overview on the issue coffee and health.

The following section is, thus, the most interesting one. It is dedicated to coffee roasters divided by region: more than 600 Italian producers of coffee. This is, for the first time in Italy, a full-blown and detailed survey of the world of coffee roasting: 85% of all existing roasters which accounts for 98% of the total turnover of the sector. For each company, it is possible to find information on its structure and its products.

Also specialised suppliers have their own section in which 400 companies are listed: from raw material to machines for horeca and for vending, from packaging to sales materials and coffee consumption.

A special section focuses on vending. More than 550 companies running automatic machines are presented here and once again they are listed per region. Finally, there is a section with a review of all the entities, associations – national and international – in the coffee world, or connected to it, as well as of specialised press.

Coffitalia 2008

Author: AA.VV.

Format: cm 21 x 22,8

Pages: 456

Price: € 100,00

ISBN: 88-88152-19-9

At it is possible to read the presentation and give a look at the index of Coffitalia 2008. On the website it is also possible to find contacts and numbers to order it online or by phone.

Starbucks points out: ready to open new stores in Europe, but not in Italy

After Coffee Taster reported Starbucks plans to open 150 new stores in Europe, a number of Italian readers wrote to us to know how they can open and run a Starbucks shop in Italy. Coffee Taster asked the question to Mrs Bridget Baker, Starbucks spokeswoman.
"Starbucks Coffee Company is excited about the great opportunities that Italy presents to the company. However we do not have announcements to make regarding the Italian market at this time," Mrs Baker told Coffee Taster.
"When we open a new market, we take time to make sure we have the right joint-venture partner or licensee to help develop the brand," Mr Baker said. "As it is very important for us to find a partner with the right business and retail experience, as well as cultural fit for Starbucks, the process can be a long one.  We will open each market when the time is right, one store at a time."

(Carlo Odello)

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.

Consumption of espresso increases in Germany

Stefan Schmitt reports on coffee in Germany in an article published by Spiegel On Line. Historical, economic and social information is provided. In 2007 Germans drank 20% espresso more than in 2006. For the first time the quantity of coffee roasted in Germany for espresso reached that of roasted coffee imported from Italy.

(Carlo Odello, source: Spiegel On Line)

Do Sicilians face a crisis because of coffee price rise?

«Italians share coffee to beat price rise» reported on the 8th of January. The source was the article from the Italian newspaper La Stampa reporting that «As the price rises, a new trend is born: “coffee-sharing”». And it added that at coffee bars in Partinico, in the province of Palermo, «now clients are used to sharing an espresso among two or three people to contrast the price risen from € 0.70 to € 0.90». This because of «low incomings, unemployment and economic crisis».
Cannot Sicilians really afford a cup of espresso anymore? Not exactly, Coffee Taster reports. «It is true that in Partinico people use to share their coffee, but not to contrast the rise of price – Alessio Mazzurco from “Bar Liberty” told us – They do that to avoid gastrointestinal annoyances». It is well known that in Sicily, as well as in Southern Italy more in general, a larger amount of Robusta is used in espresso blends. This gives more cream to the coffee and a stronger body, but also more caffeine and is less digestible. At “Bar del Viale”, always in Partinico, we were told that «you can take a coffee like ours maximum twice or three times a day». As people usually go to the bar when they meet and have an espresso, they share it to avoid exaggerating in its consumption. This can also happen in Palermo. Sharing a coffee is not just about saving money, it is about health.

(Carlo Odello)

Baristas in Italy: which training?

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.

How do you become a barista in Italy? The reply to this question might surprise several non-Italian colleagues. As for any job, there are people who choose it and other who wind up doing it, almost by chance, but then they find out that it’s a fantastic job and fall in love with it. Then there are those who do it carelessly and they make, form morning to evening, horrible espressos and cappuccinos – maybe without even realising it. As for any other job, formal training is very important. Before being told that I am being too obvious, I would like to introduce one of the problems of the HoReCa sector in Italy: training.

The point is not that there are no courses; actually, there is plenty of offer. When I started this job 15 years ago, there was not that much, it is increasing now. We have courses offered by many organisations, first and foremost by professional schools for the food and hotel sector (where, unfortunately, too little time is devoted to the bar). Then there are the courses, with varying levels of competence and seriousness, proposed by the roasters. So we can say that at present, compared to the past, there are courses for just about any taste and any wallet.

Where is the problem? Here it goes: all too often several issues are dealt with in general terms. This makes them lose the focus and you are left with the idea that just scratched the surface of a lot of issues. In addition, all too often, theory wins on practice. This happens also in courses that are meant to be more focused on doing things. A typical example of this is coffee courses: in those I have attended, I would have appreciated a greater focus on doing things, something which is crucial for the daily activity in the bar.
In Italy, it might be difficult to make the right pick not only for the would-be baristas but also for the experienced ones. This is a problem that must be faced uphill, by carefully thinking of what we want the core business of our bar to be. This makes it possible to rate the courses according to the contribution they can make in the short-to-medium term to our activity. After which, we can upgrade the knowledge we have with other courses. Then, we must keep ourselves continually updated: books, magazines, DVDs, the Internet. Any source that might give information on techniques, trends and new products is more than welcome.

Apart from the courses, we can learn lessons from our colleagues. At the beginning of my career, I decided to acquire experience working in other coffee shops. My family has a bar from more than 100 years, but I did not want to immediately grow roots in our family business. I did some training in other coffee bars. Looking at other baristas doing their job was extremely useful for me. Even today, I take any occasion to drink a coffee prepared by other colleagues just to give at look at how things go in their coffee shops and spot things I might improve in my own.

As for any job, curiosity is of paramount importance: be curious!