There is a market for the single origin. Or maybe not

By Carlo Odello and Giorgia Lavaroni 

Blend or single origin in the future of coffee? Which is to say: do consumers perceive the difference or a single origin market will never exist? This is an interesting question which involves the entire process, from production to roasting and to HoReCa. A pilot study conducted by the Tasters Study Centre in collaboration with the University of Padova made an attempt to provide the first-ever scientific answer to the question.

In order to test whether or not consumers perceive the difference between a blend and a single origin, 350 tastings have been made in Padova according to the methodology defined by the International Institute of Coffee tasters. On the tasting table there was a blend of pure Arabica with seven components and four pure origins (Santo Domingo Barahona Toral AA, Ethiopia Sidamo, Colombia Armenia Supremo and Haiti XXXXX). The group that did the tastings was evenly distributed between males and females with an age comprised between 18 and 64. Two thirds had a senior high school diploma or a university degree. In terms of jobs, 23% of them were self-employed, 21% employees, 15% students, 14% pensioners, 11% blue collars, 8% housewives and then other categories. The consumers-judges have been able to distinguish the blend from the single origin, in a statistically relevant way, preferring it to the single origin. They, however, demonstrated a considerable interest in “pure” coffees.

According to the study, there has been a remarkable evolution of the coffee consumer, more and more unfaithful and at the same time increasingly focused on taste to the extent that we can assume a considerable success of innovative consumption: the coffee menu at the restaurant, new niches in the bar sector, selection of the type of coffee based on your own sensory pleasure and on the time of the day and even new rituals in the family.

Operators from the sector were too extremely interested in the research. Even several roasters point out that there has been an evolution of the consumer who is increasingly more attentive and curious. The direction in which it is moving is not definable yet, however it is true that, in a society in which there is an increasing number of people who have a knowledge about taste, the quest for new sensory experiences involves also coffee. «We live in an era in which the consumers are increasingly more attentive, selective, aware and difficult to be conquered – says Roberto Morelli, director of the Università del Caffè – and their not being faithful, quite rightly highlighted by the study, is a challenge for those who make a bacon of quality and look for their loyalty through it». This is also a nice opportunity for those who are involved in training on coffee and on qualitative excellence. «There already is an audience interested in and motivated by these issues – Morelli carries on saying – Also from this point of view, I believe that single origins will generate in future more of a cultural interest, even curiosity, rather than a real consumption trend».

Some attempts to introduce single origin coffees in bars and restaurants have started been made some time ago. Caffè River has installed in some bar san additional coffee grinder in order to give the consumer the opportunity to ask for a single origin espresso, with a choice – varying on a monthly bases – between Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Costa Rica and other Arabicas. «At the beginning, there was a certain interest, mainly driven by curiosity. This was detrimental for the standard blend which was cannibalised by a product which was perceived as being alternative to ordinary consumption – says Marco Dalla Ragione from Caffè River – In a short while, months if not even weeks, the interest in single origins weakened significantly without having even created a consumption niche alongside ordinary consumption ».

To support to what extent the market of single origins is still a controversial one, there is the extremely different experience of Evancaffè that introduced a menu of coffees in top notch restaurants. At first, clients were a bit wary, after which, the interest in single origins grew as years went by. It should be said that the enthusiasm and the desire to propose the single origins of the maîtres and of those who ran the restaurants played a crucial role in this. However, sometimes there is a lack of enthusiasm. «Based on my experience, Italian consumers are interested in single origins while, when it comes to coffee shops and restaurants, what you see is a complete lack of this sort of interest – claims Alessandro Borea de La Genovese – the single origins need to be ‘explained’ to the consumer».

Even for the large scale retail there are extremely different experiences. «Our interest in single origins is not recently born, we have a range of them which are having big success also in large scale retail– says Marco Comellini, marketing manager of Segafredo Zanetti – This is the sort of product you can sell without having to resort to the habitual promotional process». According to Comellini the consumers, rather than preferring blends to single origins, prefer having the opportunity to choose, on the coffee menu, the sort of product they want to drink in that very moment. So, while Segafredo Zanetti had a very positive experience, Vergnano is more prudent. «Distribution is very attentive to sales profitability so it’s extremely unlikely for it to afford to keep among its range products that do not attaint a certain level of sales volume – replies Francesca Panucci, marketing manager of Vergnano – Single origins will just carry on being a niche product which will give the opportunity to train consumers and to make the market evolve».

A very peculiar market, both in the HoReCa and in large scale retail. «Consumers are more attentive nowadays, they check and compare several brands and blends – says Fabrizio Polojaz of Primo Aroma – The curious consumers are fascinated by the single origins, more for the ideas they are connected with, rather than for a genuine desire to satisfy their needs». The key to this special market can be precisely these sensory needs. Only those who will be able to identify them will be able to enter or successfully stay in this market.

The New Taster Cup

By Manuela Violoni, R&D manager at the Taster Study Center

Cream, gustative balance, aromas: three aspects of espresso which, according to tests, are influenced by the cup. The New Taster Cup is the result of three years of sensory experimentation, it is a improvement of the official tasting instrument of the International Institute of Coffee Tasters which values good coffees and punishes bad ones

If the glass influences the perceived characteristics of a wine, this is three times truer for the cup in that it influences not only the way in which the senses approach the beverage but also the physical status of the beverage itself: the temperature and the way in which the components of the cream surface. All these aspects have been kept into account during the experimentation to which the Tasters Study Centre has participated for the part on sensory analysis while Forever has dealt with technical issues.  The New Taster Cup has been designed to optimise its performance in all stages of its use, not only from the point of view of tasting but also to support the barista in preparing a perfect espresso.

Less stackable, more equilibrium of tastes

The external shape of the New Tasters Cup is designed in a way which makes it difficult to stack it in more than two rows. This is how all the cups reach the optimum temperature which is necessary to keep the gustative equilibrium of the beverage. Even the barista who does not know it will naturally follow this simple rule, thus automatically eliminating a frequent mistake made during preparation.

Elliptical bottom for a more persistent cream

The internal shape of the cup materially influences the formation of the cream. Actually it is mainly made up of fibres and fats which are in the coffee: when the espresso drips from the spout to end up in the cup, the convective movements inside of it make these components, along with the aromas of the coffee, surface. A flat or cone-shaped bottom hinder these movements, which are on the contrary favour by the elliptical interior. The New Taster Cup is designed to optimise this stage which gives a finer and more persistent to the sight cream with greater formation of the prestigious stripe-effect and with a more powerful aroma.

Clear level, no more extraction levels

In the New Taster Cup an internal mark indicates the optimum extraction level for the espresso: 25 millilitres. Not only no more short or too watered espresso but it also makes it easier for the barista to regulate the grinding: fixing extraction at 25 millilitres in 25 seconds is an easy criterion to avoid mistakes of over-extraction or under-extraction, burning the coffee or not extracting enough its aromatic or tactile potential. The internal mark makes this easier allowing the barista to keep the correctness of the grinding and of the pressing monitored at each extraction.

Brighter white, nicer cream

In order to correctly assess the colour of the cream of the espresso, the cup must be white inside. The super-white porcelain with which the New Taster Cup is made is something new on the Italian stage, to the extent that if you put it next to the traditional cups the latter look grey and opaque. The perfect and brilliant white of the porcelain make the most of the reflections of the cream of a good espresso and of the brightness of its surface. This is not nothing, given that consumers makes assessments especially with their eyes.

Lighter, more elegant

Following a trend from tasting glasses designed for wines, the New Taster Cup weights 27% less than the previous model. This conveys a sensation of greater elegance and makes it easier to hold the cup thus allowing the taster to better focus on the sensations.

Varying thickness, more non-conductivity

The reduced weight does not mean that the New Taster Cup is thin to the point that it does not ensure that the right temperature is maintained. The secret is in the varying thickness, greater towards the bottom where the espresso is contained and lower towards the top with which the lips come into contact. This makes it possible to fully exploit the non-conductive nature of the porcelain, an excellent thermal insulating material, without making the lips feel a sensation of thickness.

More room at the top, wider aromas

Just as with wine glasses, also the cup must not be filled up to the edge: it is necessary to leave enough room at the top, meaning room for the aromas to set free from the liquid and concentrate in the air so as to be directed towards the nose. More room at the top allows for the aromas to become wider: this is the reason why in the New Tasters Cup it has been increased by 10%. This, together with the internal shape of the upper part of the cup, makes it possible to better perceive certain aromatic notes.

Greater hygiene, more aromatic freshness

Even when the tasting phase is over, the way in which the cup is treated is important for the correctness of the following assessment. A critical aspect of the hygiene of the cup is the bottom: if it is not adequately designed, there is the risk that the washing-up powder from the dishwasher might pile up. The detergent then drips on the border when the cup is removed from the dishwasher and placed on the cup warmer. The New Taster Cup features some grooves designed to make any residual washing powder flow away completely.

The New Taster Cup vs the previous model

The data clearly show that the same espresso, tasted in the New Taster Cup, appears to be nicer than when tasted in the previous model, with an Edonic Index of 7.70 vs 6.78. The reasons for this lay in a number of factors: first of all, the appearance of the cream, the colour of which shows out better in the super-white porcelain. At a tactile level, the espresso has more body, due to the cream being formed in an optimal way and to volume control, which optimises extraction. The bitterness is less sharp and the aromas are valued, especially the prestigious spicy notes ranging from rhubarb to liquorice and which convey a precious note to the sensations persisting in the mouth.
The New Taster Cup highlights huge differences compared to the previous one also at the level of the visual and tactile impact of the object itself. The colour strikes more than the previous one and makes it stand out compared to the more wide-spread cups. Overall, it’s more elegant and stylish even if its shape can still be defined as classic, It’s deemed to be more modern and ‘cheerful’. At the touch, it gives more pleasant sensations due to its being lighter. It’s easier to hold, the shape and the surface have been improved. Finally, its border conveys a sensation of enhanced fineness to the lips. Despite the fineness, use at the coffee shop too is recommended.