The identity of the coffee itself has an impact on each cup of coffee. When I first started working with coffee in the early 1990s, I was primarily concerned with promoting espresso and cappuccino and selling coffee solely as an expression of Italian culture.
At the time, I worked with a large roasting company in Milan that supported my project, and as a barista, I opened and managed an ante litteram coffee shop with the goal of selling freshly ground coffee beans, as well as organic and local products that I was looking for among the alternatives to industrial productions.
I knew the stories behind all of the products, which were often thrilling, and I had a direct relationship with the producers; they were enthusiastic visionary pioneers in search of an authentic relationship with their land and its flavours, and thus I had enough information to pass on to customers, guiding them to a conscious purchase that made them protagonists of their own experience.
When it came to coffee, my lack of expertise was limited to the surface. I didn’t have any information to give the consumer, and I didn’t have the requisite knowledge to choose the coffees to offer.
The roasting company in which I was a partner was a serious but traditional operation that had no idea why I was making these requirements. The coffee books came to a halt at mythology and a bare minimum of transparency.
All of this was discouraging to me. There was no traceability right in the coffee. It was impossible to contact the producers because they were so far away. The coffees I have at my disposal are the product of periods in which the producers’ efforts and the coffee’s uniqueness were lost.
After a few years, the Internet and the expansion of digital culture have reduced distances and made contacts easier.
Because of the worldwide interest in speciality coffee, I was able to get answers to my inquiries and, more importantly, I recognised that my request for information was shared by many individuals.
Finally, I began roasting and purchasing coffees in an attempt to go closer to the source, relying on importers who guaranteed me of traceability, even at the cost of green coffee.
Today, traceability distinguishes between coffees produced using a method, with awareness, and with care, and coffees headed for a market with no identity.