An Interview with Gabriele Cortopassi

“Coffee, especially in Italy, is a true ritual. Too often though, we focus more on the ritual itself, than on the coffee we are drinking …”.

Gabriele Cortopassi has been a restaurant manager and consultant for many years, collaborating with us here at Mokaflor since 2006. He is a teacher of our coffee school, Espresso Academy, and project manager of the Chiaroscuro coffee chain. He founded the blog and is the author of the book “Opening and managing a coffee shop” published by Hoepli. In this interview, he tells us about his long experience in Ho.Re.Ca, the vision that guides his work every day and how, in his opinion, the culture for the coffee as a mere “ritual”, is changing.

Gabriele Cortopassi, we know you’re a well-known person in the world of coffee for your knowledge, consultancies and training: what is your role within Mokaflor?

Mokaflor is a company that has always allowed me to carry out innovative projects from the very beginning. Starting from my blog, which I was able to develop when I first arrived in the company around the year 2005. At the same time, we were able to develop the idea of ​​a coffee school, the Espresso Academy, creating a project that was quite innovative for the time. In fact in Italy, a real coffee culture was yet to be born – there was little more talk about apart from the difference between Arabica and Robusta, so we began to develop courses that had a new approach and a more accessible price to bring people closer to coffee while promoting high quality. 

In addition to this, for Mokaflor over the years I have carried out different projects related to communication up until recently helping to develop Caffè Lab. Our e-commerce is dedicated to quality coffee and tools for professionals and coffee lovers. 

Espresso Academy has been growing rapidly and you’ve developed partnerships worldwide. Can you tell us a bit more about this international expansion?

We have always traveled a lot ourselves for consultancy projects and had many students coming from abroad to take part to our courses. In recent years the Middle East and Asia have played a very big role in our partnerships and in recent years we have also started collaborating more and more with other countries in Latin America, Central America and Africa (as in Cape Verde and Uganda). This has led us to a broader understanding of how much growth there is in coffee consumption and in the cultural background that surrounds it. 

These collaborations truly allow us to broaden our point of view every day and to pass this knowledge onto our students and clients. 

An Interview with Gabriele Cortopassi

Mokaflor also has a strong “cosmopolitan” and  international soul. You can see this by looking at the website and the product range. How do you think this has been developed?

Mokaflor has quite a long history that starts over 70 years ago, in the year 1950 when Vasco Bernini first bought the small shop from the previous owners who had already started the business in the 1930s. Today in its third generation, Mokaflor is still an artisanal company.

With Andrea Bernini, towards the end of the 90s, Mokaflor was amongst the first coffee companies in Italy to offer traceable and high-level coffees. This happened with Chiaroscuro. A line of products and coffee shops that offered traceable and single origin coffees from all around the world. 

A true innovation for the time: the Chiaroscuro coffee shops opened in many countries and pursued in transmitting knowledge and insights to high quality coffees. 

Furthermore, Mokaflor was one of the first Italian roasting companies to export, a choice that today has made it one of the best Italian coffee companies in proportion to its size, turnover and exports.

Thanks to this international approach, you are probably able to see how the world of coffee is changing. Which are the trends of this sector?

Coffee has always been segmented by areas of consumption. “Coffee is drunk at home, at the bar or at the vending machine”. These were some of the key and sole segmentations done. What has been happening in recent years however, is a segmentation not only linked to the moment of consumption, but to the quality of coffee as well.

Even if I consider “quality coffee” a somehow very vague and almost “abused-of” term, it is now becoming something more and more specific.

The term Specialty coffee and the idea of giving a cupping score (SCA protocol) is creating a strong focus on traceability and territory. Even in Italy! 

In fact, in addition to “fast-service” bars, other concepts that are specializing in more of an “experiential” coffee (one which tells a story and is linked to a territory) have made their way and are rapidly increasing.

A quality that certainly affects the final price. We know that the Italian market is quite resistant to Specialty coffees. How do you see this type of development in our country?

Let’s start by debunking the myth that the specialty market is only predominant abroad. Especially in Anglo-Saxon countries such as the US or UK it’s a strong trend. However, we seem to overestimate this data. If you think about it, when we (as coffee lovers!) go to London, for example, we specifiically look for these type of Specialty coffee shops. And yes, there are definitely quite a few!

But we seem to ignore that there are 30 good cafes in a city of 8,9 Milion inhabitants, over 3.000 fast-coffee type of shops. We can definitely say this is a problem of perspective.

In Italy, coffee is a highly serviceable product tied to habits, which is why a different type of coffee is hard to make room for. 

Also price affects this choice. Italians tend to see coffee as a pure necessity. A companion of a quick break and energy booster. A higher price therefore almost seems unjustifiable. Italians almost see the price of coffee as a kind of “tax on the break” and not as a markup for the quality of a product they are enjoying. 

Luckily, this stigma is slowly but surely changing and many coffee shops are starting to establish themselves on the market, especially in small / medium cities… finally!

Specialty coffee shops will probably never reach the main share of this market, but they will surely grow more and more. Personally, I see a growth in what I like to call the “middle ground”: a new segment in which coffee companies and baristas train themselves to communicate quality to their customers without necessarily only offering Specialty coffees, but are instead focusing more and more on sustainability and traceability of their products. This is certainly the fastest growing market segment.

Is Mokaflor also targeting this market segment?

Definitely! Our Gold 80/20 blend which is certainly our best seller both in Italy and abroad, as well as other products such as our line of Super Tuscans 90/10 and 100% Arabica blends. These coffees recall the Italian tradition of high-level Espresso blends and have therefore conquered their own nice segment of the market. 

But the world is changing: we are strongly focusing on quality. For example, we were guided by the success of Caffè Lab, our flagship project linked to the world of high quality coffees, in which we can find a vast selection of Specialty coffees with scores above 80 points, but also a LAB 100 blend which is a bit of the ideal response to the request of  coffee shops that are growing their quality and want to offer good products without necessarily being entirely focused only on Specialty coffees.

Mokaflor has a very wide offer indeed. There are over 70 different products in your range. Can you tell us a bit more about this choice? 

Thanks to an extreme research of our target and the needs of our individual customers, we have organized ourselves by making flexibility our main focus. For many of our clients we create specific blends that we design together with them. We do tasting sessions to find the ideal blend that is unique for each customer. We believe that each company on the market should have a unique approach and offer products that reflect this message. We also apply the same approach to packaging, thanks to graphic flexibility which allows us to create customized packaging for each customer, with no additional cost.

You’re role inside Mokaflor is in communications: does that also change as rapidly as how products change?

Yes! We have all noticed how increasingly important video channels are becoming. We are currently working on two large video projects which I hope will be very useful to those who are entering the world of coffee. The goal is to transmit the traceability of coffee and therefore to talk about the product and the whole path that it takes from the plantations to our cup. We will guide you through the life on a coffee plantation and support new baristas with the opening of a specialty coffee shop. Stay tuned on our channels for all the latest updates