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A coffee map of Italy.

The source for a rich and varied array of coffee products and espresso machines, Italy is unequalled in the sum of its coffee technique, technology, and inspirations. Quite simply, there is an Italian genius at play in coffee just as there is in art, design, and fine cooking.

Here following is an armchair travelers' "coffee map of Italy" intended to help guide the stranger along the Italian coffee trail. Take warning, however, the coffee industry of Italy is too extensive to fit into any short work, so we begin by apologizing for naming only a few companies in this brief tour of the peninsula.

Italy contains about 600 small roasting firms, some 150 middle-sized roasters, and nine companies with the size to warrant national distribution. Further, there are 19 companies making espresso bar machines. Dozens of other firms, large and small, are engaged in producing equipment and specialized systems for coffee roasting and packaging, and for tea packing.

No matter the size, it is safe to suppose that, including green coffee trading and forwarding houses, about 1,000 Italian companies, all with some kind of coffee/tea-connection, dream of placing their wares and services on store shelves or bar counters, or in roasting factories throughout the known world. The confines of space and the limitations of our knowledge mean that we may neglect the very companies that ought to be mentioned first. We assume that through time we will learn more, and be able to share the information with our readers. Coffee in Italy is always new and always exciting! Also, the reader should note that the more detailed passages on certain companies named here result purely from recent visits to these firms. Through the years, Tea & Coffee has spotlighted numerous Italian companies in the various sectors and will continue to do so on a regular basis.

It is a fact of coffee life in Italy that an impressive concentration of coffee related companies is to be found in the relatively small area bounded by the cities of Turin, Milan, Bologna, and Genoa-basically what can be termed the nation's northwestern corner. Here is to be found the majority of coffee importers, forwarding companies, industrial-scale roasters, coffee factory machine manufacturers, and espresso bar equipment manufacturers. Coffee-related activity, most particularly espresso activity, is a billion dollar activity here, and is denser by number of companies in the various fields, proportional to area, than anywhere else on earth. When it comes to coffee, this area is something like what southern California is for movie stars.

Although each of the four cities mentioned above is a center for its own small sphere of activity, one central hub for the area is Genoa, the ancient queen city of the western Mediterranean sea trade. Genoa, with its strong banking and trading interests, remains a symbolic power center for coffee. Although a considerable tonnage of coffee still enters through the port, it is now a far second to Trieste as an actual coffee handling and warehousing center mainly because of the government's preferential development policies in support of Trieste. Nevertheless, Genoa hosts a good number of green coffee traders and forwarders, even though some, if not most, of their day to day business may now be taking place physically in other ports. Representative of its traditional power, the Genoa coffee association-- "ASSOCAF" for Associazione Commercio Caffe' Droghe Coloniali Genova--includes as members the largest trading and roasting companies in Italy.

One of the leading green coffee importing and agenting companies in Genoa is CICE, which also operates the port's sprawling Rivarolo complex of bonded, public warehouses for coffee. The commercial director of CICE is Enrico Fantoni, who is also now the new president of the Genoa coffee association. Joining him as the new director of the association is Silvana Ruggiero.

The Bar "Consorzio"

One of the newer and bolder coffee initiatives based in Genoa is that of the Consorzio Torrefattori Caffe' Bar. The Consorzio is an organization of 13 roasters, representing every geographic region of Italy. These roasters maintain their own independent roasting and commercial programs, but they have formulated a highly controlled premium blend, bearing the Consorzio brand stamp exclusively for the bar-care-hotel market, which they each produce and commercialize in their respective territories. This "Consorzio" espresso ranks as one of Italy's most professional and highly guarded bar service coffees.

For the blend, the associated roasters may use only those coffees that have been approved by independent chemical analysis as meeting preset standards. The coffees are again controlled at port of entry. The roasted product itself is also tested to assure it meets the strict guidelines set for the Consorzio name.

Additionally, the group jointly engages in promoting the Consorzio blend in such initiatives as training programs for barmen on behalf of higher quality espresso coffee service. In sum, the Consorzio offers medium-size and small roasters, sharing a commitment to quality and the out-of-home market, a communal product of high standards and a communal voice that gives them much more strength than they have alone. All together in turnover, these 13 roasters hold the number two place in the Italian bar sector. The Consorzio is administered (and with responsibility for product control) by the Genoa based company Coffee Consult. The chief administrator is Alexandro Calabria.

The Genoa member of the Consorzio is Torrefattori Associati-Rostkaffe, whose president is Dr. Massa. Recently he was available to speak to Tea & Coffee about his experience as an associate of the Consorzio.

"The Consorzio blend is 90% quality Arabicas, 10% top quality Robustas," explained Dr. Massa. "The roast only is a variable, being somewhat darker in the southern area of Italy. We are agreeing to the very strict standards of control in order to make the blend truly distinctive. There is nothing like it in espresso. And the price bears out the uniqueness, a kilo of Consorzio blend can be priced 2,000 lira more than the typical bar product, and roughly three times the cost of in-store labels. Despite the price, it is successful, not yet in a big way, but that may come. The goal is to maintain the quality index, not attain volume."

"For example, my own company here in Genoa has about 2,000 bar customers of which fewer than 500 are now using the blend at least occasionally. So far it accounts for less than 20% of my invoicing. But it is still very important because the bars using it are voting for quality in coffee, first and foremost, price aside. This is very encouraging. Consorzio is actively supporting the evolution of a quality market niche that in time could be most significant."

"Throughout Italy, the Consorzio espresso is available at a few thousand establishments so our impact together is national and hits the very top end of the hotel-restaurant-bar market. Upgrading quality standards in this sector will have a positive effect throughout the coffee industry."

Espresso Machines

As for espresso bar machines, the international capital is most assuredly the city of Milan and its adjoining districts. While some of the leading manufacturers are now located in other regions, the Milan area is were the early espresso machine workshops sprang up and it is the location for the annual trade show--held in the Autumn--that draws the attention of the entire world to Italian espresso machine production and where each year new advances and design developments are showcased.

Consider the list of companies that have operations in the region--Brasilia, Carimali, Cimbali, Brugnetti, Faema, Gaggia, La Pavoni, Rancilio, Vibiemme, and Vera International. The area accounts for nearly two-thirds of Italy's production capacity in professional bar units.

Here it is appropriate to note that while espresso coffee continues to boom in several key markets, most notably the U.S. and Eastern Europe, the Italian industry has been hurt, in order of events, by the world-wide recession, the Gulf War, the chaos in Italy's domestic economy, and the continuing signs that the leading markets for Italian machines (France and Spain) have indeed matured. This has placed the emphasis on expanding into new export markets and creating designs and technologies to suit these markets. As a result, we have seen a veritable explosion of fully automatic models, appropriate for the still small but expanding U.S. market (the common belief seemingly is that when it comes to espresso, Americans are able only to press buttons and count to three).

One indication of how important espresso machine exports are to Italian manufacturers, is that a full 66% of their production was shipped out of Italy in 1992. Of the 200,000 professional espresso machines made in Italy in 1992, 132,000 units were exported. Sales in Italy account for only a little more than one-third of production, while sales to other countries in Europe add up to slightly more than 50% of production. Sales to non-European countries now hold almost 15% of production. Unfortunately, growth in new markets is not yet making up for stagnant times in large, traditional markets. Nevertheless, expectations are for an improved year in 1993, based largely on an upswing in exports following the devaluation of the lira.

Milan is not only at the heart of the espresso machine industry, it also hosts numerous green coffee trading firms--such as ARC, Gabesco, Beraldi--and also offices for leading coffee product companies such as Crippa & Berger. Following the acquisition of Proctor & Gamble Italia by Philip Morris' unit Jacobs Suchard Italia, the region also hosts the headquarters for the Splendid brand, which is Italy's second best selling coffee product, bearing a national roasted coffee retail market share of 11% in 1992.

Milan is also home for such notable industrial suppliers as Goglio Luigi--famed for packaging lines and its Fresco system--and Scolari, the engineering firm providing all the nuts and bolts needed for handling and roasting coffee from small projects to turnkey facilities. The headquarters for Unilogo are also in Milan. Unilogo is the international sales office for the TME and OMAG vacuum packaging systems, which offer interesting on-line solutions to the needs of medium and smaller -sized companies.

Made in Bologna

From Milan south across the rich plains of Lombardy to Emilla Romagna, one passes through cities famed for their art, cooking, and engineering--native talents that have all been employed for the enrichment of coffee products, espresso machines, and industrial equipment. You find such roasting companies as Moka Sir near Pavia, Musetti in Piacenza, Cares Guarany in Modena, and PACS, Colnd, Mokador, and Segafredo Zanetti near Bologna.

Around Parma, one finds key industrial suppliers like Verwerkaf, making decaffeinated and soluble products for numerous clients throughout Italy and Europe, and dynamic machine specialists like OPEM with its line of high performance, specialized vacuum packaging machines.

But it is Bologna that pulls the attention, mainly because of the number of coffee related firms based in or near the city. As already mentioned, both Colnd and Segafredo Zanetti have their industrial-scale coffee roasting centers in the area. Colnd is the Italian Coop food producer, and member of the international Coop organization. Its Maseta brand has flourished in Italy and abroad. Segafredo Zanetti is one of Italy's most prominent coffee companies, with market dominance in the out-of-home sector and about 5% of retail sales. This company, through the Zanetti Group of coffee-related businesses, is also aggressively active in coffee in France, Portugal, Austria, Germany, Spain, and the Netherlands. Company interests extend to the highly successful chain of Italian espresso bars under the Segafredo banner to be found in France and Spain.

Most particularly however, Bologna means fine tooling and machinery--hence the presence of such espresso machine companies as Wega, Grimac, Spaziale and, in the near vicinity, Estro and Saeco, and too of such famed packaging and roasting machinery specialists as ICA, TS, Acma, Ima (for teabag makers), Tubosac, and Petroncini. Petroncini roasting, grinding, and coffee handling equipment--ranging from elegant small shop roasting units to massive installations-can be found around the world. The same international recognition has been won by ICA for its vacuum packaging lines characterized today by the new Hi-Vac 90 system. Tubosac offers such line specialties as pack opening/coffee reclaiming machines. Quite simply, if you are looking for roasting, handling, and packaging machinery or for espresso bar equipment, the great cities of the Italian plain--Milan, Parma, Bologna--offer an unequalled opportunity for comparison shopping among a wealth of possibilities.

Lordly Lavazza

The power region for coffee in Italy is completed, crowned might be the better term, in Turin with Lavazza, Italy's biggest coffee company. Lavazza is the world's largest marketer of espresso coffees. It is an accepted leader in the new concepts of Euro branding and of dynamics in coffee marketing, such as sports and arts sponsorships. It can be said that "as goes Lavazza, so goes the Italian espresso coffee industry.'' Now it is possible to add, "as goes Lavazza, so goes the global espresso industry." It is therefore good news that Lavazza goes very well indeed, in Italy and abroad.

The company's sales in 1991 reached 737 billion lire, of which 68 billion lire came from exports. For year 1992, Lavazza export volume rose by more than 20%. In the same year, the company's market share in Italy of roasted retail sales held steady at a most-potent 45%.

From South to North

Yet as strong as the Italian north is, and as capable in carrying forward the ideals and genius of Italian espresso--in coffee and machines--to a waiting world, it remains for the south to more fully reveal its coffee treasures. And treasures there are in abundance, from the hills of Tuscany down to the farthest reaches of the peninsula, and round the shores of Sicily.

Even as the awesome density of espresso machine and coffee industry equipment suppliers seems to thin out south of Bologna, so in place multiplies the number of remarkable coffee roasting companies. From central Italy southward, coffee can assume legendary status and, when gulped down short and straight, holds its own with the power of the best whisky known.

New York in Tuscany

Look just beyond Florence and you'll locate Pistoia, the city where the young brothers Onori--Luca and Gianpaolo--have a thriving family coffee roasting business that epitomizes the best of Italy's great tradition in small coffee companies. The company began in 1930 when Luca's and Gianpaolo's grandfather decided to serve his own blended and roasted coffees at his New York bar, then located in Montecatini Terme. His highly appreciated enterprise in home roasting led to the foundation of the company TNY, which today produces Caffe New York for the bar market throughout the Tuscan region.

TNY has about 80% of its turnover in the bar market, and its espresso is served in more than 1,000 bars and cares throughout the region surrounding Florence. New York espresso has also won followers as far away as Venice and Rome, not to mention a growing number of admirers abroad---the Onori brothers have in fact become globe trotters ("Just say we like to travel," jokes Luca) as they take their unusual and handcrafted coffees to fine food shows in Japan, the U.S., France, and Germany.

Thanks to their efforts, New York espresso is gaining at least a small niche in international fine food circles. The faithful following has led to promising sales growth--increasing from 150 tons in 1986 to more than 250 tons in 1991. The house secrets, in the blending and roasting techniques, remain closely guarded. TNY offers four highly distinctive blends, each with its own memorable taste and aroma, and running from a pure Arabica, containing such rarities for example as a certified Jamaican Blue Mountain, to hearty but smooth blends of Arabicas and selected Robustas.

Classical Italy

The further south one goes, the darker the roast. It may also be true that the further south one goes the more handcrafted the blend. At least it seems to this drinker that the espressos of Rome, Campania, Calabria, and Sicily are as distinct and numerous as the wines. Try a cup by Saquella Caffe in Pescara, or an espresso by Danesi in Rome, taste the coffees of Naples and those of Sicily. Mauro is a famed cup from Reggio Calabria that, although it has marketing offices in Milan, remains true to its southern origins. The brand now has about 2.3% of the national retail market in roasted coffees.

And no one could--or would want--to neglect the coffees of Care do Brasil, notably the Kimbo brand. This coffee has caused a stir throughout Italy, and sales have grown so rapidly that suddenly, from seemingly out of no where, it has attained a 8.1% national market share. Kimbo is proud leader of the classic tradition in southern Italian coffee. It is a coffee style that stands for a way of life, thoroughly distinct in its own right from the better known "espresso" of the north. Coffees like Kimbo are an impressively rich and full-bodied part of southern Italian cuisine and culture.

Italy's Coffee Frontier

But back to the far north, no less fond of its ways in art and life, and this quickly sketched coffee map of Italy is completed with Trieste. As they who know her can attest, Trieste is hardly a new town--it is, in fact, as old as time. But the spirit of Trieste is emblematic of the new Italy--ambitious and unfinished. This seems particularly so in coffee. Trieste has been Italy's coffee boom town, and, to this day, one senses that the city is the nation's frontier for new thinking in coffee.

Although less visible, another Trieste-based coffee business also enjoying a long reach and reputation is Demus SpA, which decaffeinates green coffees, refines caffeine for chemical and food industries, and can also provide treated mild coffees to order. The company began as Corex Italiana, a decaffeination company in the Jacobs Group. It became totally independent of Jacobs, and took the Demus name in a buy-out in 1982. Today, Demus is a family-owned company, commercially managed by Dr. Massimiliano Fabian.

The Demus plant, located in the outskirts of Trieste, decaffeinates using the methylene chloride process. Demus maintains an exceptionally strict standard for its work, with established residue ceiling of 1 ppm or less--versus the EC wide level of 5 ppm and the Italian limit of 10 ppm. The company limits caffeine content to 0.05% or less, where as by Italian law the criteria is 0.1%. The company offers a complete range of analytic services, including moisture control to less than 11% (the company urges its clients, by the way, to use the decaffeinated green beans immediately as they are far more fragile than normal green coffees).

Demus works exclusively with green coffees, usually by single origin, and typically in small to moderatesized orders. Currently, the plant is decaffeinating for about 40 clients, green coffee traders and roasters located throughout Italy, including some of the best regarded names in Italian espresso coffees.

Actually, Italy has a small decaffeinated market sector--only about 3% of roasted coffee sales--and served by three decaffeinating companies. Recently, the decaffeinated coffee sector has even been declining, although this is thought to be a temporary phenomenon. The downturn, however, has promoted Demus into investing in new technologies, such as caffeine refining, and at entering newly developing decaffeinated markets, as in Eastern Europe.

Trieste's sense of growth and energy is not at all restricted to the port area with its expanse of coffee warehouses and service companies--its coffee economy is vigorously promoted and defended by the Trieste Coffee Association, and by such green coffee establishments as Jory, Tropical, Alberto Hesse, CoGeCo, and Sandalj. The same vitality is also characteristic of the surrounding towns and areas, even as far as Treviso to the west.

In this far northern corner of Italy, one finds such espresso machine companies as CMA, Zanussi, Elektra, and Le San Marco. Le San Marco is a member of the Zanetti Group. CMA is the company behind a group of brand names in espresso machines, including the Astoria line, for example, for which the sum production now may well be the most numerous in Italy. In roasted coffee, one finds here such family names as Bristot, Goppian, Moreno, and of course, the renowned lily, a family which is doing for Italian espresso worldwide what Baron de Rothschild did for French wines.

In truth, the Illycaffe company 1ogo rising so very high and elegantly on its column above the plant, along with the city's giant green coffee silo sitting directly on the waterfront, combine to make coffee interests loom larger than life in Trieste. In any event, it can be said with some certainty that the good people of Trieste are more conscious, necessarily so, visually so, of both the gourmandise qualities of coffee and its raw economic power than any other population in Italy.

Yet also, the two striking sights in Trieste are emblematic of the rising divide in Italian coffee consciousness, between the resurging vision of espresso coffee as a medley of art and science in the very spirit of the Italian Renaissance, and of the mass-market economics and technology that can help give coffee new answers to changing consumer demands. It is something amazing about coffee in Italy that the country should be the international leader in both areas.
COPYRIGHT 1993 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Title Annotation:On the Continent with Jonathan Bell; includes related article on coffee tradition of Naples
Author:Bell, Jonathan
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Mar 1, 1993
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