Specialty State of Coffee

Last weekend took place the second edition of Milan Coffee Festival at Superstudio Più. Three days full of coffee tasting, workshops, live performances and competitions plus some great food corners where you had the chance to taste artisanal bakery good like panettone and pizza. This has been the second edition here in Milan after major cities including: London, Berlin, Amsterdam, L.A just to say the major ones.

This has been an occasion for who works in the coffee industry not only to see friends, taste new coffees but also, in my opinion, is a nice moment of the year (end of year with all the resolutions and the thoughts for the new begin) to think about the state of Specialty coffee here in Italy. I recently had news that few coffee shops closed. This is: sad, frustrating and helpful. First of all it’s sad because when someone shuts down an industry is always bad for the workers, suppliers, customers and for the owner himself. Something didn’t work and it’s a failure. It’s frustrating because one can only imagine how much effort there is behind a coffee shop including long shifts, money, time, people, families, suppliers and so on just to say a few elements. On the other side, failure is not always bad but could be a helpful starting point in order to think about what didn’t work, why, and how to improve for the next time.

What we really need to understand is that in Italy, and in general in people’s mind, changes take time. You cannot change the way people drink coffee from one day to another, just suddenly saying: “hello there, third wave has arrived!”. We were not born drinking specialty coffee, we were not raised drinking 100% arabica coffees, we were not used to pay more than 1€ for an espresso shot. People need to be taken by the hand, showed why that coffee is expensive, what lies behind coffee production, which is the added value in your coffee shop. Hiring a great architect, a photographer, having a communication agency and a social media manager will not make you pay bills and wages. You cannot survive serving only specialty coffee. Please let’s be honest for once.

Rents are high. The cost to hire someone in Italy is almost unbearable. Suppliers need to be paid. Bills need to be paid. If you just open what nowadays is called an “instangrammable” coffee shop, in a very short period of time you will have to put the closed sign on. You need to make your revenue grow selling from croissants and cakes in the morning to salad bowls and panini for lunch, organizing tea time and nice afternoon breaks, you need to have a fast wi-fi connection working on, you need to select your venue very carefully before making anything else. Furthermore, not being close to a metro station, schools or universities or offices won’t make your coffee shop work.

I am carefully studying people’s behaviour: if you give them the chance to try something new like specialty cold brew or for instance a V60, they are likely to try it and to be enthusiastic or at least to consider it as a future choice. But if you rely only on specialty coffees, 100% arabica, with a higher price, you are cutting out a big slice of potential customers. Of course third wave coffee shops should open. I’m a big fan of who is brave enough to do it, really I am supporting these initiatives and I am working on my project as well. You only need to be aware that people won’t stop drinking house blend, won’t walk in and ask you for a panama geisha or for a kenya coffee made by anaerobic fermentation.

Coffee festivals and exhibitions should also be times for confrontation about the future of the industry showing real numbers and figures about who opened and about how many on the other side closed. We should be aware of the investment needed to open a coffee shop. Time, money, people, marketing research, potential customer interviews, venue searching are all elements to be discussed among the coffee tribe. As always, sharing is caring. Share you experience even if it has been a failure or a mistake because from every wrong moment we can have a nice and positive outcome. Helping others succeed will be a great reward and we should not be shy to ask to more experienced people for their advices.

This were my coffee-thoughts about this ending coffee year.

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