Chiara Bergonzi: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #16

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Coffee Insurrection
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Chiara Bergonzi: Coffee Insurrection Hero Chapter #16

Coffee Insurrection
1- Introduce yourself: who are you, where are you from, where do you work and what’s your job.
I am Chiara Bergonzi, I am 36 years old, and my story in the world of coffee began in my café, a classic bar that I have held for 4 years in Piacenza. After the bar was sold, I went to manage a boulangerie of about 800 square meters, housed in an old furnace. For those years, it was a very innovative project (at least in the Piacenza area): a French boulangerie, fast but quality catering, two world champions at my side (pastry and bakery), interior design in an era in which (mostly) bars still had the counter so high as to almost hide the customer ... It was a really nice project, opened by a friend of mine, an entrepreneur from Biella together with a French partner, and there I learned to work in a very dynamic way, managing a large number of employees (also for what concerns the practical and administrative side). Right there, I met by chance Luigi Lupi, who at the time was working at the Musetti Roasting Company as a trainer. Luigi is one of the founders of Latte Art, a great connoisseur of the world of coffee and thanks to him at that time I started attending training courses that covered various aspects of the coffee world. Coffee grinding, how to make a proper cappuccino, Latte Art ... a tight training that, after two years, made Luigi invite me to an SCA competition (which at the time was held in Carrara). I was certainly very happy with his invitation, but it was still something totally new, and different. Before opening the bar, in fact, I was studying to become a professional dancer (career set aside when I realized that being professional in that field was another thing) and at that point I found myself instead in a stimulating world, but that at the same time I looked with skepticism. After all, I was only 25 at the time, and in a sense I looked at everything around me almost snubbing it. I was wondering “Are these people really here to make coffee and cappuccino competitions?”; I didn't understand what there was to judge (and Luigi was one of the judges!). However when I arrived there, full of doubts, I found myself catapulted into a very fascinating world. I remember that I was in the audience, and I heard my neighbors say "That's Francesco Sanapo!" with great enthusiasm, and I was just asking myself “Who is he?”, “What’s the reason for all this emotion?”; but it was enough for me to watch a few competitions, savoring their tension and emotion, to really understand. At the end of the day of the Coffee Competitions, after seeing them all, I was spellbound. And then came the Latte Art competitions, with Andrea Antonelli (whom I still didn’t know, 2011 Latte Art Champion with various titles behind him) who, at that time when making a four-leaf tulip was already considered like something extraordinary, competed blindfolded! It was love at first sight. Back home I confessed to Luigi that I had found my "vocation": I wanted to do Latte Art. After a first moment in which Luigi tried to advise me against it (after all, I already had a good job, a nice salary and a small child, and Luigi thought that maybe I was a little underestimating the difficulty of this career), he fully supported me. At the time Luigi and Andrea Lattuada were the top of Italian Latte Art with whom I could train, but Luigi advised me to go "further". A great friend of his, Chihiro Yokoyama (owner of the Bar del Sole in Tokyo), was a true champion of Latte Art and so I quit my job and left for Japan. I came back really excited about everything I had learned from Chihiro and his team, and so I nspent the next two years working in night clubs while training for competitions during the day. I won the Italian Latte Art Competitions from 2012 to 2014, and in that year I came second in the world. In that period I also deepened my coffee and specialty coffee knowledge (thanks to SCA) and, once finished the competition period, I started working as an international judge for all Latte Art competitions (in 2015), and in 2019 I became Head Judge at the international level of the entire Latte Art category. In the meantime I have also become Passionate Educator for SCA Europe, I have published two books (“Latte Art” and the brand new “Il Caffè” which covers the entire production chain). Today I am a trainer of all the SCA modules (except Green, which I will finish soon), a consultant for the whole Horeca world and co-founder, alongside the Mauro sisters, of (a micro-roastery that only roasts fine specialty coffees) . In addition, I do much more: brand-ambassadors for Alpro and Sage, and I deal with networks with an exclusive product at European level, managing a network of people. Basically I still live in Piacenza but I move a lot for work, and Milan is one of my operational bases (Lot Zero headquarters), plus I collaborate with a Brescia company called Pratello. Basically, I deal with various faces of entrepreneurship, globally (especially for what has to do with the Specialty Coffee world), and I am very active on social networks. Also, I trained Manuela Fensore, helping her arrive first at the World Latte Art Championships, and at that point I realized that I had really reached the top.
2- When and why did coffee become important to you?
I didn't really start a love story with coffee, but I started it with Latte Art. For me it’s one of the most difficult disciplines that exist, even more difficult than barista competitions (considering the grueling training and maniacal precision when pouring into a cup). Yet for me it was love at first sight, and from there I deeply fell in love with the raw material, with coffee and with everything that lies behind it. Since 2011 there has been a love for Latte Art and a few years later that, I fell in love with everything else: the various extraction methods, the single origins… and everything else.
3- Do you remember the first coffee you had that was more than “just a cup of coffee”?
I just don't remember. Certainly Luigi Lupi (or someone else during the competitions) let me try it, but I honestly can't say anything more.
4- What’s your favorite thing about going to work in the morning?
For sure I’m a morning person, a "daytime" person, and for me there is nothing more true than the saying "The early bird catches the worm". The morning starts very early with a good coffee, and until last year I used to spend most of my days away from home. Only this year I began to really appreciate being at home, not only working remotely but also planning my schedule, making phone calls, and also reading a book. But what I like most about the morning is “
5- What’s your favorite brewing method and why?
I really like espresso but, if I have to be honest, my preference goes to espresso drinks with a milk base or, better still, with a vegetable drink base. And this preference of mine is not out of fashion: I have always drank vegetable substitutes, partly because of intolerances (which we all have a little, especially lactose) and partly because of being careful not to overdo it with sugars. But I must say that I like all the extraction methods: from the classic V60, to the French Press and the Moka Pot that I rediscovered (like many others) recently. At home I use a lot the Aeropress, the Moka Pot and the espresso machine, if I were in a coffee shop I would certainly ask for the classic V60. I love the clean cup of the V60 and Chemex, I love the Aeropress as a method, and using the Moka Pot at home drives me crazy; I use the Syphoon very little, in the summer I really like Cold Drip. The French Press, often snubbed, is actually very good if made with the right recipe and with an adequate coffee. However, when entering a coffee shop, I would definitely choose the V60, for its clean and light cup.

6- Which is the best coffee you ever tasted?
There is really no coffee that I can say was "the best I have ever tasted". For sure I have tasted several very good Geishas, ​​and in the World Barista championships you often taste many excellent and particular coffees, with specific flavors. It was certainly in those contexts that I tasted the best coffees, but I can't name a precise one. I re-evaluated Brazilian specialties a lot when I was in Brazil, for the World Cup. If I'm not mistaken, on that occasion Emi Fukahori, from MAME, won with a Brazilian specialty from Daterra.

Specialty Coffee

7- Is there a country of origin that you tend to favor coffee from? Why?
No, I don't have a real preference. Obviously there are the classics Ethiopia, Kenya, El Salvador… how not to love them! But I really like to taste and always discover something new. For example, I’m (like many of us) "anti-Robusta", in the good sense of the term (let's say as coming from the specialty-arabica world), and then I tasted a Brazilian Robusta from the Minas Geiras area, fermented in processing with some wine yeasts (therefore a desired "fake"), which associated with a 20% of three specialty arabicas has managed to produce an exceptional blend, truly never seen before. And it is for moments like this that I am always ready to taste and discover something new. Another example of novelty are the guys who did permaculture in Peru, and they sent us several coffees, all good, but one was truly exceptional: it was called Oconal and had truly unique flavors. And so we took it and proposed it, making it clear that even less "known" places like Peru can offer wonderful products. Or let's think of Luis Campos, father of anaerobic fermentations, who in addition to sending us the classic Costa Rica Anaerobics (with the cinnamon and ginger flavors that we all know) proposed an experimental thermal fermentation, at a higher controlled temperature, which (also in this case) revealed unexpected flavors.
8- Suggest us a roastery to check (not the one you working at/you use at work).
Difficult, really ... it's a bit like asking for your favorite farm or coffee ... you can never get a complete panorama. For example, today I'll answer Paolo Scimone and his “”. Paolo is a person with whom I have found a great affinity not only for what concerns work but also personally, and whom I admire for how over time he has been able to maintain his ethics and his professionalism. In addition, he’s an Italian roaster, which has nothing to envy to foreign roasters. In fact, let's not forget that we are not "inferior" to anyone, simply abroad roasters like or have had more fertile ground in which to grow, in which to become great raw material professionals. In Paolo. I find precisely this, associated with a great sense of professional and human ethics.
9- What’s the most important things you’ve learnt while working in the business?
There is not just one thing, but rather a set of things. The communicative gift is very important, and having an empathic side is essential ... you can be very good at what you do, but if you don't have empathy and you don't know how to communicate (with clients, students, the public, etc) it's all useless. In addition, what really enriched me was having known cultures all over the world, having somehow become a "child of the world". I have known new cultures, I have learned so much, I have traveled far and wide… and this has served to expand my horizons, and this is ultimately the most important thing. An open mind brings new ideas, brings more eclectic visions compared to those with a more closed mind.
10- How your work and the specialty coffee world are coping with Covid and the new challenges for hospitality?
Personally, as already mentioned, in this complex period I have dedicated myself to discovering other "ways" of working, much more digital and much more related to communication, using a lot Instagram and my image to communicate something. Linked to the specialty coffee world, I have certainly focused on online training, this is because I see a future, whether we like it or not, much more digital, linked to what will be artificial intelligence, to fast selling. Figures like "the coffee representative", still present in Italy, will be destined to disappear very soon, the delivery van will disappear, everything will be digitized. Then it will be important for companies to have a proper website, to be visible on the various marketplaces accessible, to spread specialty coffee more and more. In the end, that's all it is now, it's mathematical: the more you are on social media, the more views you have, the more people know and see you. That's all.
11- How do you see the specialty coffee scene in 10 years?
Looking at what has happened in the last ten years (2011-2021), a period that I have lived in full, we can realize what crazy changes happened. Changes inherent to culture, changes that brought large companies to take (at least in some way) the path of specialty coffee. Ten years ago there were already the first pioneers of specialty coffee in the Italian market, but they were often small places that, despite making excellent coffee, did not have any media strength (and by media I don't mean television but social media). Then thanks to SCA, thanks to the disclosure in other countries, thanks to some characters who have also become famous abroad, finally the Italian specialty scene has changed a bit. Thus came a second wave of pioneers of the Italian specialty (as I could have been 4-5 years ago), with much more media power. Francesco Sanapo was one of the first, followed by many, and now we can find some examples of specialty coffee in many cities from north to south. We are still very small, the specialty is still a niche market that is evolving. Now, among professionals, we already talk of the Fifth Wave, made up of scientific research and super-technological coffee shops, but we must consider that in reality we are still very attached to the classic figure of the 90s bar. However, I can tell you that in the next decade there will certainly be an expansion of the specialty world, and the small craftsman will be increasingly seen as a cool figure, while in the large roasters you will see the difference between those who will remain ignorant mimicking the small roaster but without succeeding; and those who, on the other hand, will study and succeed in providing a better commercial and specialty product. Because this is what we talk about with the specialty: something better, more controlled, more complete and interesting on a sensorial level. In the next decade this will happen: we will all go towards the best. This is one of the reasons why I am so happy to have co-founded Lot Zero together with the Mauro sisters: the trend will always be growing… we have also seen it in this long period of Covid. There has never been a decline, only ever growth.
12- Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
This is perhaps the most difficult question. I have always been far-sighted, looking forward without ever looking back. There is a phrase that I really like: it is said that a person's maximum intelligence is seen when in five minutes he can forget a negative episode from the past, immediately looking at what the future may be. For me the past serves as a lived experience, but which must absolutely not condition future choices, if not providing the point of view of rationality, trying not to repeat the mistakes already made. I hope that my work as a consultant, also linked to my image, will continue to grow; I will continue to train but as a goal (both in the specialty world and in the network) is to increasingly untie my time to money. I am a very creative and visionary person. What I want to do (and what I have always done) is to make my passion my business, drawing an economic benefit from what I do. I therefore definitely want to create passive income linked to my knowledge and my know-how, my consultancy, my strategies. And this applied in all sectors. For example by focusing more and more on digital platforms (which thanks to perfect SEO, the use of key words, etc ... can generate long-term profits), or with training days for professionals, or with the network that (if everything goes as it should) in five years it will be able to generate a passive income. At the moment I really work a lot, from eight in the morning to ten in the evening, but always with the entrepreneurial mind and not that of a simple worker. So I don't know what will happen ten years from now, but in the next five I want to generate more and more economic and living well-being for myself and those around me.
13- Any last word? Any tip or suggestion you wanna share with someone that want to start this path?
The work in specialty coffee, as in any other area, is increasingly complicated because now the level has risen a lot. What really matters to me is the momentum, it's the specific moments. If I hadn't started ten years ago, with this precise path, today I would not be the Chiara Bergonzi I am today. I think it takes a strong and true passion in what you do (because in this way you are more focused and you do much more), you need a lot of determination and a lot of commitment, you need goals to be achieved directly and quickly. And as far as I'm concerned, you have to succeed in these goals at all costs, relying on the people who have succeeded before you in the same thing, and who have done it successfully. And this is the key to everything: to rely on those who have already succeeded, but who have really been successful, not on those who speak only without concluding anything. If you target the right people, the kind of path you want is much more likely to be able to do it for real. Passion, commitment, focus, sacrifice, goals, and always turning to competent and successful people who can guide you along the way. Nobody gives you anything, and we must consider that there is a huge difference between those who have passion and use the right strategies to make it a beautiful business; and those who have only the simple passion but do not use the correct strategies to put into practice what they want to do. Here, this is what I would like to suggest to all those guys who want to enter this wonderful world of coffee.
Lot Zero

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