Chiaroscuro: the first Specialty coffee shop in Italy. An interview with Andrea Bernini, the mind behind this project and co-owner of Mokaflor

In 1999 the first Specialty coffee shop in Italy was born. Precisely in via del Corso, in the heart of Florence, at a time when there were no places really specialized in high quality coffee in Italy, Andrea Bernini – one of Vasco’s – creator of the Mokaflor roasting company in the 1950s – two sons, decides to bet on this project which today has branches around the world and a line of products under the ChiaroScuro brand.

How was the Chiaroscuro project born?

The project was born thanks to a new movement that was developing in the United States, where the culture of different extraction methods has been developing for years. Contrary to Italy, which instead is a very conservative country that has always been linked to Espresso. I wanted to create a place where you could discover the highest level single-origin coffees by inviting the consumer to choose their own coffee of different origins, consciously. The goal was to have a meeting point, a lounge where you could talk with the customer about all characteristics of good coffee and the blends that could be created.

Chiaroscuro: the first Specialty coffee shop in Italy. An interview with Andrea Bernini, the mind behind this project and co-owner of Mokaflor

Location: how did you find the right one? Which were your criterias for identifying the ideal place for this type of innovative format?

Thanks to a friend, we discovered the beautiful space in via del Corso, where we still are today, in one of the most well-known shopping streets of Florence. Before us, there was a fashion store. Today we are still in the same location and over the years we expanded the kitchen spaces and created more room for the customers. It was a strategic choice that still bears its fruits today.

The interior design of the Chiaroscuro shop has a very strong identity. Can you tell us a bit more about the idea behind the design of the venue and who inspired you?

The idea was to create a vintage environment inspired by the traditional French cafès: high displays – unlike the low ones we find today in all Italian coffee shops – the copper top, Venetian-style chandeliers and bistro tables.

Chiaroscuro: the first Specialty coffee shop in Italy. An interview with Andrea Bernini, the mind behind this project and co-owner of Mokaflor

Which coffees are available at Chiaroscuro?

The Miscela Oro 80% Arabica and 20% Robusta is definitely our bestseller. However, with the smaller grinders you’ll be able to taste different single-origin coffees: from Central America, South America, Asia, Africa, and over 15 different specialty coffees.

Chiaroscuro was a visionary concept, and might still be today. What was the response from the public back when this type of approach didn’t yet exist in the world of coffee?

Honestly, it was difficult at the beginning. The appreciation of our offer and the curiosity grew over time. When offering specialty coffees in your bar, you have to be very strong at communication. Customers don’t always immediately understand the difference between one origin and another as much as someone who’s already a coffee expert, is. It’s a daily challenge, but with passion and dedication you’ll be able to reach your goal.

Chiaroscuro then opened some franchise shops around the world. How did the experiences go?

Certainly not always positive. The rules for a successful franchise require the brand to be: easily recognizable, have a good location and employ professionals who know the product well and know how to communicate it. However, being an Italian coffee brand with many years of experience, certainly is one of the aspects that most rewarded us. We have had the most significant experiences in Chile, Latvia and in all those countries where there is a strong culture for high quality coffee.

Caffèlab, Mokaflor’s newest brand, born in 2015 – almost seems to be an ideal continuation of the Chiaroscuro project. Do you agree?

Caffèlab is definitely the way-to-go for the future: our research for specialty coffees which come from one specific microlot (compared to single origins which can be defined as such for coming from one specific country, but could defacto also be a blend) and an ever higher focus towards sustainability and traceability. But above all the focus should be on spreading high quality coffees.