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For a lucky 13, a coffee tour of London and the continent.

For a lucky 13, a coffee tour of London and the Continent

Sitting at the International Coffee Organization (ICO) headquarters, imagining a crowded room full of delegates with common goals and hidden agendas, we began to wonder what it would take to get an Agreement this year.

In one sense, the ICO Agreement, which has complex economic ramifications around the world, still retains a degree of simplicity. What could be simpler than sitting down to drink coffee together? This is done around the world, everyday. We share a cup of coffee, we jest and laugh with one another, and we always go back for refills!

This is exactly what we did in the Fall of 1989 as we visited Great Britain, Switzerland, and Italy on a tour of the European coffee centers, sponsored by the SCAA and organized by Roland Veit of the Paragon Coffee Trading Co. Thirteen coffee-loving people with diverse coffee experiences, from eight different states of the union, sampled British iced coffee, Swiss caffe latte, and Italian espresso and cappuccino while our overwhelmingly generous country hosts regaled us with other fine coffees, cuisine, information, and genuine personal warmth.

Yet our adventure also exposed us to other aspects of the European coffee industry, including administration, education, roasting, and the manufacture of coffee equipment.


Site: International Coffee Organization. First stop - the Coffee Information Centre, the administrative branch of the ICO, which promotes coffee by providing research, information, education, and training services. From this London headquarters, the ICO administers and implements the International Coffee Agreement about which we have heard so much this past year.

From page 2 of the "Coffee In Education And Training - Prospectus," published in London by the ICO Coffee Information Center:

"The Agreement is designed to balance the supply and demand of coffee, ensure a fair price structure, promote coffee consumption and encourage cooperation between coffee exporting and importing countries, in an attempt to secure economic and political harmony among Members."

The ICO membership is composed of 50 producing and 24 consuming countries with a total of 2,000 votes: 1,000 for producing countries and 1,000 for consuming countries. A proportional voting system is employed. Brazil, for example, has more than 300 votes on the producing side while the United States has the largest number of votes among coffee consuming countries, based on coffee usage. There are also accredited delegates, from the Soviet Union for instance, who are invited by member countries to sit in on the meetings though they do not vote.

We sampled 10 coffees in the high-tech tasting laboratories at the ICO Centre and were simply amazed. The experienced "cuppers" were surprised by the highly acidic Burundi and the novice tasters began to feel that their impressions were valid.

Four of us entered the single tasting chambers where the coffee bean meets up with the latest in modern technology. We sampled four groups of three plain black coffees, entered our sensory perceptions into a computer, and waited while the program analyzed our data. The output was especially interesting considering the fact that participants came from both East and West Coasts as well as the Midwest!

Sensory perception research analyzes seed to cup factors such as fertilizer, filters, and soil. The results have helped to refine the terms used to describe the flavor of a coffee brew. An extensive collection of abstracts, books, slides, videos, and a bibliographic on-line database are available internationally and the library welcomes donations. Before departing, we browsed through the exhibit, "Coffee Makers: 300 Years of Art and Design" by Edward Bramah and the ICO, and were treated to the expertly brewed Mary's Iced Coffee, espresso, and cappucino at the coffee bar.

Site: the London Fox. The London Fox, or the Futures & Options Exchange, represents another aspect of coffee administration. We learned from the Fox fact sheet that, "The first "Commodity Exchanges" in the city grew out of the 17th century coffeehouses, some of which became established meeting places for dealers in particular commodities. The present Exchange owes its origins to the London Commercial Sales Rooms, built in 1811 as a center for auctioning a variety of soft commodities."

The coffee exchanged at London Fox is solely Robusta, and, together with oil, represents the largest commodity volumes traded.


Site: Blaser Cafe. Off to Switzerland! Blaser Cafe, Berne, the second largest Swiss importer of green coffee, watches the London Fox daily via computer. Blaser Cafe also roasts coffee for hotels, restaurants, hospitals, and home mail-order customers. As an aside, we were also told that the Swiss maintain a stockpile of five million kilos of coffee in case of war!

Blaser Cafe's "high performance quality coffee" Jubilee blend comprises Arabicas, Robustas, and beans from Cameroon and Brazil, though they have over 600 blend recipes. A factory tour reveals their systematic approach to a high-quality coffee.

Sixteen silos hold 30,000 pounds of green coffee from eight different countries of origin. Blending is achieved by the Probat computer-controlled silo weight system for transport into the roaster with a two ounce variation in weight between roasting batches. Each batch is allowed to roast for six to 12 minutes, followed by two minutes of cold air cooling.

Blaser Cafe roasts most of its coffee on the modern Probat drumless, fluid bed roaster and daily tastings of the mild to dark roasts ensure quality. Production output during one eight and a half hour shift per day is 30,000 lbs. The coffee is then vacuum packaged in 1/4, 1/2, 1 and 2 lb. units. Since Blaser Cafe is distributed internationally, the package text includes English, German, French, and Italian translations. Blaser Cafe also encloses free saucer liners in each box, adding a bit more of that clever Swiss flair.

After burners: 70% energy conservation Roof
Green coffee offices: 5th
Air cleaning: 100% 4th
Roasting: 3rd
Blending: 2nd
Cleaning & destoning 1st

Site: HACO AG. High technology production standards are in order at the Gumligen headquarters of Haco AG, Forum Culinaire, our next stop on the tour. Haco AG is a Swiss water coffee decaffeination plant, among other things. The Swiss water decaffeination process is based upon the molecular ability of caffeine to adhere to activated charcoal. It works like this: first, Swiss water is used to extract caffeine from the coffee bean. The caffeine water extract is then circulated through activated charcoal (any organic material, such as nutshells, burned without oxygen) to which the caffeine molecules bond until the water extract contains 1 percent caffeine. At this point it is considered a decaffinated extract. Finally, this exact containing only 1 percent caffeine is put back into the coffee beans, which are then dried and bagged for shipment.

We tasted four different coffees at Haco, all of which had been water decaffeinated (three by Haco and one by Secoffex). Not surprisingly, we noticed considerable differences between the Guatemalan, Kenyan, Colombian, and Robusta cuppings, evidence of the Haco AG philosophy that "taste decisions are human decisions."


Site: Fin Importers and El Mundo. Such human decisions regarding coffee taste were certainly being made as we cupped coffees in three countries. While in Italy, we had the good fortune of being able to taste the coffees of several major Italian companies, one of which was Fin Coffee.

Many Italians prefer a sweet, smooth cup that is not an acidic drink. One of the more popular Italian blends is made from 40 percent Brazilian, 40 percent Robusta, and 20 percent Central American and East African coffee beans. They particularly like to see a foam cushion (called "creme") form on top of the cup and then to watch as the sugar sinks and disappears. And most Italians enjoy their three daily cups, usually at home for breakfast and lunch and at the local coffee bars in the afternoon. These bars typically serve espresso and cappuccino brewed from a regional roaster's coffee.

The coffee bar blend tends to be smoother tasting than the home blend because of the coffee's quality and the professional espresso machine's extraction capabilities. Each bar is supplied by only one regional roaster who in turn makes long-term financial investments in the coffee bar.

Cafe El Mundo in Marnate is one of the local northern Italian roasters supplied with green coffee by Fin Coffee. Cafe El Mundo offers a selection of 12 different coffees from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Brazil (#2 Santos), Colombia, San Salvador, Cameroon, Zaire, Mexico, Giava, and Nicaragua. They have a 15 ton capacity with 15 silos, and they use two 120 kilogram Petroncini roasters.

During our visit we watched a brand new Goglio Luigi GL-26 packaging machine produce 2 kg valved, vacuum packages for espresso bars at a rate of 20 packages per minute. Their blend is sold in the northern provinces as well as in Sicily.

The further south one travels in Italy, the darker the roast. This variation in the roast, as measured by roasted shrinkage, runs approximately 16 percent in the north, 18 percent in the south, and 21 percent in Sicily. Blend and quality also differ from region to region. Cafe El Mundo provides for these geographical differences in demand as well as the small demand (approximately 3 percent) for decaffeinated coffee.

Site: Caffee Mokabrasil. These taste preferences were apparent to us at Caffee Mokabrasil, a local northern Italian roaster in Milan. Seven coffees are roasted in one 120 kg Petroncini roaster and then combined to create three blends: bar regular, bar decaffeinated, and family home blend. Caffee Mokabrasil strives for the cream on the cup which they feel the African coffees best provide. Their bar blend is made up of 50 percent Robusta, 20 percent San Domingan, 20 percent Guatemalan and 10 percent Haitian. They also vacuum pack their pre-ground coffee because the Italian home market demands the brick pack.

Site: La Pavoni. After experiencing the distinctive Italian espressos, we toured the very sites where the machines that make such smooth espresso are made by hand. La Pavoni, also in Milan, is a family owned espresso machine manufacturer. La Pavoni's amazing machines are all hand assembled and tested by Italian craftspeople, using premium zinc, copper, and brass.

At this point we were fortunate enough to view the gorgeous espresso machines from the vast private collection of Ambrogio Fumagalli. The detailing and structural aspects of their designs captivated us. And we must tell you that the beauty of these La Pavoni espresso machines will be enjoyed by trip members each morning because they gave each of us a home Europiccola chrome espresso machine. Grazie tanto!

Site: La Vittoria. The U.S. market is also of interest to La Vittoria, a roaster and grinder manufacturer in Bologna. We were able to witness the final assembly of a high speed multi-chamber four-bag coffee roaster with a processing capability of 10,000 lbs per hour. This mammoth machine stood two stories high!

Vittoria is also involved in a cooperative research and development project with the University of Bologna. The Food Technology faculty fosters doctoral study grants for coffee research. Objective chemical and physical experimentation is being conducted in their laboratories, to achieve the goal of replacing the subjective tasting and judgment of the coffee masters with computerized roaster technology.


Site: Ditting. The roasted coffee, the espresso machine, and the grinder are all critical components of a memorable cup. Our next visit was with Ditting Grinders, in Bachenbuelalli. This 61-year-old company hand assembles top quality commercial coffee grinders for offices, restaurants, food shops, supermarkets, and coffee roasters. And the 20 to 30-year life expectancy of their grinders was almost tangibly understood as we felt the heavy and yet finely tooled metal components. Ditting grinders are sold worldwide, and the American market is an important arena for them. Ditting grinders are available on both East and West Coasts in the U.S.

Site: Jacob Suchard Museum, Zurich. On this trip, it was easy to see how coffee has involved so many businesses and so many lives. The Jacob Suchard Museum in Zurich exhibits an astounding collection representing the cultural history of coffee. After touring the museum, one realizes the far-reaching impact that coffee has had on civilization, in the fields of literature, graphic arts and paintings, porcelain, and silver.

The earliest record of coffee is scribed in a 16th century copy of an Arabian manuscript from the 14th century. Coffee is also mentioned in leather bound travel and botanical journals in several different languages. The exoticism of the coffee beverage for the aristocracy is depicted in the elaborate oil paintings, prints, and political cartoons, as coffee passed through the 17th century as a medicinal beverage, into the 18th century Age of Reason when coffee reached the common man.

Coffee was alternatively recorded as causing sexual impotence or as possessing aphrodisiacal powers. It sobered up the French Parliaments and was first widely consumed by workers during the British Industrial Revolution to increase productivity.

Coffee has also made its impression on the history of European ceramics. This fashionable drink inspired the design of elaborate coffee sets. Porcelain was re-discovered in Europe as a material with a lower heat conductivity than metal and silver. The porcelain and silver collections are stunning reflections of social and economic eras of coffee consumption.

Our trip was a tremendous learning experience in terms of coffee knowledge and the exchange of ideas. We shared with all our gracious hosts and with one another. Our personal exchanges with trip members were rewarding and unforgettable. And as with a good cup of coffee, we will always come back for more memorable SCAA coffee trips!

PHOTO : At one of the stops, Blaser Cafe in Berne, Switzerland, Walter Blaser's considerable collection of coffee mills is on display.
COPYRIGHT 1990 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
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Author:Dallis, Martha Bear
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Jan 1, 1990
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