If you’re a specialty coffee drinker and you think about Italy, you might feel a little conflicted. On the one hand, Italy is the spiritual home of the barista, cappuccino, moka pot and many global espresso brands while on the other hand, specialty coffee is still relatively hard to find there. For the large part, you have to put up with bitter robusta-heavy Italian espresso that comes out of a dirty machine.
There are, of course, many reasons for this. From the €1 caffè that people slurp at the counter to a relatively weak public relations effort by the major specialty coffee bodies, Italy often appears to be trapped in the past and constrained by its own culture, despite the curious fact that it is home to the second biggest number of SCA (Specialty Coffee Association) trainers. This begs the question: ‘where the hell are they all?’
Luckily, there are some bright lights at the end of the tunnel and across major Italian cities, specialty coffee is slowly but surely becoming more and more popular, thanks to growing interest from its cosmopolitan crowd and its many expats.
Milan is a great example of an Italian city where specialty coffee has found a firm footing. From numerous brunch places that serve excellent coffee to renowned coffee bars like Orsonero and ONest, Milan easily has Italy’s most vibrant specialty coffee scene.
One of its most recent arrivals is Nowhere Future Coffee Roasters, a café and roastery where Australian-inspired café culture meets Italian design and passion. It is one of three talented roasters chosen for the upcoming August 2022 Coffeevine box.
I first came across Nowhere Future Coffee Roasters after reaching out to my dear friend Valentina of @specialty_pal fame and asking her if she knew of any good places in the city where I could potentially host a public cupping. This was in March of 2022 when many Covid restrictions were still in place and I needed a space that could easily accommodate around 20 people. Her first recommendation was Nowhere Future Coffee Roasters’ café in the heart of Milan.
A few emails and phone calls with co-founder Luciano Bramante later and we had an event that was sold out only a few hours after tickets going on sale. When I arrived for the cupping a few weeks later, I found a bright and welcoming space that did not feature a big coffee counter right by the entrance as I was accustomed to in most specialty coffee bars in Italy – a nod to the local habit of drinking a quick caffè at the counter rather than sitting down – and was staffed by a hodgepodge of friendly characters.
Luciano, a tall man with earrings and tattoos, came around the bar to give me a big hug and walk me through the plan for the evening. I instantly felt a connection with these guys and the fact that their wild card entry coffees for the cupping did extremely well despite the fact that they were not actually available for the April box at the time bode well for a potential future partnership.
“We’re not shying away from pushing more experimental coffees because we want people to taste just how much variety is out there.”
Their approach, according to Luciano is to bring together the best elements of Australian coffee culture – specifically, high quality coffee and excellent service – and the best parts of Italian culture – design and passion. Both of these go hand in hand with Italy’s biggest industries, from cars to fashion and food. Each one of the four co-founders that include Luciano, Andrea Prayer, Federico Griffa and Francesca Cavazza brings a unique skill to the table and together, they’ve created a forward-thinking business that’s trying to effectuate a change of mindset.
Sadly, the truth about specialty coffee in Italy is also one of struggles, red tape and culture wars. Not long ago, Florence’s Ditta Artigianale made worldwide headlines after a customer called the police because he was being charged €2 for an espresso instead of the customary €1 and as the customer alledged, because the price was not being displayed correctly. Although the whole thing sounds comical, it’s a great frustration for people like Ditta’s founder Francesco Sanapo who told me in Milan a few weeks ago that while this might be the best PR money can buy, it’s also living proof of how narrowminded some people and authorities still are. He’s contesting the €1000 fine in court.
That’s why, according to Luciano, people like Valentina of @specialty_pal are so important. “She has a very unique voice that speaks directly to consumers via social media,” Luciano said. “She talks about many aspects that are hugely relevant and is helping the average consumer to understand what makes specialty coffee so unique and different.”
Indeed, much of the education for the end-consumer is coming from public figures like Valentina rather than big international bodies, which might also explain why Italy is still lagging behind most of its northern neighbours when it comes to the third wave. Luckily, more and more businesses like Nowhere Future Coffee Roasters are popping up across the country and doing their part to make specialty coffee more accessible and most importantly, fun.
What initially started out as just a café has since evolved to include a fast-growing roastery too. At the time of my last visit in March, they only bought one or two bags of green per coffee to minimise the risk but more recently, demand for their roasted coffees has grown significantly and now they’re feeling confident enough to buy larger quantities of each coffee such as the truly delicious anaerobic Colombian from El Vergel in Tolima that they will roast for the upcoming August 2022 Coffeevine box. Think of a rich and sweet fruit cocktail in a beautifully balanced cup.
I asked Luciano, who joined me for a chat through video call from his holiday in Greece, what the average person thinks of coffees like this. “Surely, many of your customers have not had this kind of coffee,” I suggested.
“Definitely, but we’re not shying away from pushing more experimental coffees because we want people to taste just how much variety is out there,” he said. At the roastery, the goal is to showcase each coffee in its most delicious form, looking for sweetness, brightness and clarity in the cup and the only way to find this is by working with the best quality green coffee you can get. Otherwise, the old computer science mantra GARBAGE IN, GARBAGE OUT always applies.
Beyond the coffee, Australia’s influence can also be tasted in the food they serve at their café. Luciano, Andrea and Francesca all, spent many years living and working in downunder where the local brunch and coffee culture seriously rubbed off on them. From ‘smashed avo toast’ to ‘sweet bravas’, all served with a big Aussie smile, Australia’s vibes are omnipresent.
Interestingly, Luciano also shared with me that around 70% of their customers are foreigners and the truth is that recent big events like World of Coffee or the Host Milano have not had much of an impact on the local community. According to him, many people who picked up a World of Coffee flyer at the café had no idea what it was or said something along the lines of ‘but yes, of course this event should take place here. Italian coffee is the best in the world.’ This might still be up for debate.
Luckily, outspoken places like Nowhere Future Coffee Roasters are pushing the envelope further and the more places like this pop up across Italy, the more access end-consumers will have to specialty coffee and thus, begin to understand what makes specialty coffee better than commodity coffee. It all begins with that one special cup of coffee.
This coffee is part of our upcoming August 2022 Coffeevine box that also features other delicious coffees from Awaken and Rum Baba. To choose your ideal box and get in on the fun, just pop over to our shop now.