August 2017 Newsletter
Italy is in some ways a deeply conservative country, especially
when it comes to social customs, religion, food and drink. The
Italians tend to stick with the philosophy of "If it ain't broke,
don't fix it" which may explain why the Rancilio Silvia, despite a
bit of exterior tarting up, is fundamentally the same machine that
was first produced 20 years ago.
When Galileo Galilei, 16th century physicist, astronomer,
philosopher and mathematician, ran afoul of the Catholic
Inquisition and was told to accept that the Earth was the immovable
centre of the universe, rather than in orbit around the sun, he was
heard to mutter "and yet it moves." And indeed it did, but despite
irrefutable scientific proof it took the Church another 200-odd
years to admit it.
Innovation in coffee doesn't move at quite that glacial pace, but
it hasn't been that fast, either, up until the last couple of
years. Commercial espresso machines are a case in point. Coffee
hobbyists started talking about modifying domestic machines with
PID temperature controls and electronic brew pressure controls in
the late 1990's.
It was over 10 years later when the first commercial
implementations started appearing in Italian espresso machines. In
the modern world, that's a long time to catch up to "state-of-the-
A similar situation has applied where Italian roasters, blenders
and baristas are concerned. Up until a few years ago they were
acknowledged as the best in the world at getting acceptable
espresso blends and shots from mediocre beans. They had a huge and
stable domestic market and a growing export market. Then specialty
coffee and Nespresso capsules came along and ate their lunch.
There is nothing like a bite on the hip-pocket nerve to get
someone's attention, and last year sales of coffee within Italy in
all forms were down. Except in one area; coffee capsule sales were
up 20%! It appears that (as with the rest of the world) Italians
were voting with their wallets for capsule convenience. More
worrying was a reduction in sales from the myriad espresso bars
In an effort to turn things around, the Italian coffee industry has
finally started to question their current approach to the market.
On the consumer side, "acceptable" coffee is seen as a simple
commodity, and generates zero excitement. On the industry side, the
commodity mentality also prevails, and again "acceptable" quality
and low prices rule.
To fix this some of the more progressive companies are looking
towards much higher quality specialty coffees, single origin, farm
gate, certified and all the other stuff, including the roasting
challenges that come with them. And the cafes and bars are looking
towards improved food and beverage offerings, and superb rather
than average coffees. The "best in the world" model they're
starting to copy? Us. Melbourne and Sydney high end cafes are now a
model for the Italian industry, as well as the UK and USA.
This month's special is an old favourite I try to acquire every
Costa Rica Tarrazu Miel
Rich coffee aroma, with sweet acid, smooth fruity mid palate and
creamy body, the coffee-est coffee you'll ever taste.
A quick warning (more next month): we'll be closed for the whole of
October as I'm heading for Italy and the huge HOST trade show.
Until next month