Coffee Insurrection Hero: Chapter #6 Alessandro Galtieri
1- Introduce yourself: who are you, where are you from, where do you work and what’s your job.
I’m Alessandro Galtieri, I live and work in Bologna (Italy) and since many years (since 2001) I’ve got a café dedicated to Specialty Coffee: it’s called Aroma. Aroma was an innovative project for the times, when in Italy specialty coffee was almost non-existent. I was already the owner of a “typical Italian bar”, where I used to serve also lunch and appetizers. When I met Cristina, my partner, I found in her an ally to turn the bar into a proper coffee shop, completely dedicated to coffee, to its culture and to the various extraction methods. So we prepared not only espresso, but we also used “Neapolitan” coffee maker, Ibrik and French Press.I was Italian Brewers Cup Champion 2018 and 2019, I competed in the World Championships and in 2019 in Boston I ranked third. I have been AST since 2014, for the Barista and Brewing modules of the Coffee Skills program of the Specialty Coffee Association and I am also Content Creator, i.e. I participate in the creation of the Association's Brewing educational modules. Furthermore, I have written manuals compliant with the SCA educational program for baristas who wish to upgrade to a professional level: Basic and intermediate level barista, conforming to the official program of the SCA (“Abilità del Barista”, the basic level is translated and published in English with the title "The Barista Reference Book" in print and e-book format); for brewing I have also published a manual dedicated to alternative extraction techniques, ("Oltre l'espresso", which was a great success in Italy and which will soon be available in English).
2- When and why did coffee become important to you?
I started to work in a coffee shop in the ‘90s, and in 1994 I bought a café. At the time, the coffee was just “complementary” to the offer, because I used to serve also alcohol, sandwiches and so on… the typical offer of an Italian bar. However, I have always identified coffee as the main product of the bar, and that’s why I started asking about the quality of the product I was buying: I was curious, I wanted to know what was in the blend I was serving my customers. However, my enthusiasm was frustrated by the only response I got from the representatives: “the best arabicas” ... and I thought: but what are these best arabicas? We must realize that in those days getting news was really difficult; internet did not yet exist, there were no publications in bookstores, the only possible contact with the coffee industry were the representatives of the roasting companies who were very well prepared on prices, promotions, merchandising and loan for use, but knew nothing about coffee. In 1996, a new coffee roaster in Bologna began to propose a real list of blends of which he indicated composition and degree of selection: a truly futuristic thing for those times. He was the first to speak to me about coffee with competence.
3- Do you remember the first coffee you had that was more than “just a cup of coffee”?
Of course I remember it! It was a Sidamo, the first single-origin coffee I had ever tasted. For me it was an epiphany. I realized at that moment that I had hardly ever drank coffee and that no one else I knew had ever drank coffee either. That’s when I decided that I would dedicate my professional life to spreading the culture of quality coffee.
4- What’s your favorite thing about going to work in the morning?
Over time the clientele of my coffee shop has become more and more prepared and demanding. With the most curious of them I have a dialogue on the coffees I propose, on their origins, on processing, roasting, preparation… in short, on all those aspects that in a commercial proposal are unknown and ignored. My greatest pleasure is to extract new coffees (or classic proposals that I keep choosing year after year) for them, in order to exchange opinions while looking for peculiar nuances and characteristics.
Sometimes customers bring friends to show them unexpected and surprising aspects of a product that is considered so well known as to be trivial. Interest often runs out there, but sometimes even these people are so impressed that they change their vision of a product that they did not consider or even disliked. When this happens, it’s extremely rewarding.
5- What’s your favorite brewing method and why?
Well, it depends on the moment. I like the plastic V60 and the ceramic Loveramics as conical drippers, the Lili dripper as a flat bottom, Clever and Aeropress as hybrids ... Oops! I did not mention espresso, maybe now they will withdraw my Italian passport;) No, don't worry I also like espresso; but at the moment the extraction methods I appreciate most are the gravity one and the infusion one. After all, I have also participated in some Brewers cup competitions that have given me great satisfaction so I am very fond of this style.
6- Which is the best coffee you ever tasted?
I think I can say without a shadow of a doubt that for now the best coffee I have ever tasted is the one I brought into my competitions, precisely a Gesha with 20 days of anaerobic fermentation from the Hartmann family. It is a coffee that followed me in competitions both in 2018 and in 2019, a very special and unusual thing as in competitions we tend to use very fresh coffee. My experience, on the other hand, was the truly incredible quality level of that lot: perhaps this is the thing that struck me more than any other about this coffee. I still remember backstage in Boston 2019 before stepping onto the platform for the final, when Cristina and I tasted the coffee: it was simply stunning, a coffee harvested more than one year before, with very lively flavors of mango and pineapple, blood orange, orange blossom… really crazy. I have not yet found a coffee that has given me such realistic sensations of the presence of fruit and floral aromas, a bouquet of such complexity, but at the same time of such great cleanliness in the cup. I fervently hope to meet another one sooner or later, because tastes like these will stay with you forever.
7- Is there a country of origin that you tend to favor coffee from? Why?
I could simply answer Ethiopia but in my experience I have learned to respect all origins. I admit that I have some prejudice, but I’m ready to accept the lessons of humility that coffee gives from time to time. The "globalization" of post-harvest techniques, the increasing care to create more valuable and better-paid lots, it’s helping to increase quality, even in countries that in the past only offered commercial productions. We must never forget that what identifies a coffee as "Specialty" is ultimately the quality of the cup, not the origin or lineage.
8- Suggest us a roastery to check (not the one you working at/you use at work).
Just one? No, come on, it would be too simplistic, I really don't know who to choose, the view is so interesting! No, I just don't tell you one!!! Ahahah.
9- What’s the most important things you’ve learnt while working in the business?
That you’re never done. I am old, so I’ve now seen more than a generation of new roasters or baristas promoting a new way of making coffee, only to get trapped in those ways that in the meantime had been overtaken by the next generation. The world of specialty follows the Galilean method, there is no room for dogmas, you must always stay awake.
10- How your work and the specialty coffee world are coping with Covid and the new challenges for hospitality?
The hospitality sector is suffering greatly. Those who already addressed the domestic market before the pandemic, especially online, had an excellent chance to maintain a good turnover. While those who changed their proposal during the pandemic are trying to grab a slice of that market, I have the impression that they have not achieved the desired results. The challenge for recovery will be won by those who are lucky enough to do business in those countries that have been more efficient in reducing the incidence of infections; with effective prevention first and then with total vaccination coverage. Lucky them; my business does not take place in one of those countries.
11- How do you see the specialty coffee scene in 10 years?
I believe that demand will continue to grow because we are still a long way from saturating this market. In particular, Asia will be the driving force. The offer will obviously try to meet demand but the effects of climate change are not encouraging - for the whole sector, not just for the specialty. I'm afraid there won't be enough for everyone :( The laws of the market will enforce their principles and prices will rise in proportion to the quality and rarity of the products available, putting a stop to the spread of specialty to almost all income brackets, like today… but perhaps this scenario is just my nightmare… now I’m going to drink a good cup of Yirgacheffe and I’ll overcome the pessimism :)
12- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I hope and I’m pretty sure that I’ll always be in this sector, I don't know in what role, because I believe a lot in the evolution of myself and in what I do and in the paths I take, but I sincerely believe that coffee will remain my vocation and the sector in which I will continue to express my professionalism.
13- Any last word? Any tip or suggestion you wanna share with someone that want to start this path?
Aim high, but with respect and humility.