#Italian coffee: From Umbria to the Pacific Northwest – Caffè Umbria preserves the coffee roasting tradition
(Photo in front of Torrefazione in Perugia courtesy of Caffè Umbria)
All it takes is one step into a Caffè Umbria café to know that you have tapped into the true Italian coffee culture. When I published my first article with a brief profile of the Portland, Oregon café, I found out that there is a strong connection with Italy and the Italian art of blending and roasting coffee which is based on Italian family tradition.
Based on what I have learned, the company roasts about one million pounds of coffee a year and sells coffee not only in the Pacific Northwest, but also in other key US cities. Besides exporting abroad to countries like China, the company is currently expanding to service a network of 5-star hotels in the US, something that would be comparably difficult to achieve in Italy due to the existing deep-seated relationships between the individual coffee roasters and the hotels.
I also learned that a key factor that distinguishes the Italian style of coffee roasting is the artisan approach that involves the use of a distinctive and blend of coffees. By adjusting the formula of the roast to fit the variations across the different beans included in the blend, a higher level of consistency can be achieved over time. In Italy, these unique blends are highly prized and kept as closely guarded secrets.
But, selling Italian-style coffee in the US is different than doing so in Italy. The US market is different in that it is always looking for the “next new thing”. Caffè Umbria is not simply adapting to the US market, but embracing it by offering a Mono Origine (single origin) coffee from Costa Rica that leverages their expertise in choosing and roasting coffee, a skill that has been developed over several generations.
When I met with Emanuele Bizzarri at the coffee roasting plant in the Seattle area recently, he was surrounded by the bustle of the coffee roasting operations, but was kind enough to take time to meet with me to share his insight and passion for coffee, based on his family’s longstanding involvement in the business.
Before the interview, I had not fully realized the extent of the Bizzarri family involvement in the coffee business; many family members actively participate in roasting operations in both Italy and the US. The original “spinta” (spark) that motivated his grandfather to open a coffee roasting business right after World War 2 was a connection with an uncle that was a coffee roaster. His grandfather Ornello started his own coffee business in Perugia in the 1950’s and the thread of that business continues today. Ornello’s son Umberto Bizzarri grew up with the family business and came to the US in 1986, followed closely by his son Emanuele who came in 1988 and worked side-by-side with his father until 1998 in the coffee business. After a brief stint in Italy, Emanuele returned to the US in 2001 and helped start Caffè Umbria. For more details, there is a great profile of Emanuele’s family in the recent newsletter: http://www.caffeumbria.com/newsletter/CaffeUmbria-Fall2013.pdf
I also found out that there is a business in Perugia that is operated by two of Emanuele’s brothers and their family friends and that his youngest brother Stefano is moving to Seattle soon to work for Caffè Umbria. But, the Italian family ties don’t stop with the Bizzarri family. Antonio, the son of their Portland-based partner Pasquale Madeddu, has recently started working at the Portland café. So, you can see that the thread that started with Ornello opening his business in Perugia many years ago will likely continue well into the future with the involvement of the younger generation.
I asked Emanuele what motivates him most and the answer was simple, but profound: “I love coffee”. He said, ”Monday is the best day of the week. I look forward to working, because I am doing what I love”. When asked what he likes most about the US, he explained that the business climate in the US allows a true entrepreneur to see the tangible results of their hard work which can be a tremendous motivation, but it is obvious that despite that visible success, Emanuele will never lose his love for Italy and will continue to preserve his close ties to family and friends that live there.
Prendiamo un caffè? Lina