Italy’s first special coffee shop

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Ditta Artigianale was the first specialty coffee shop in Italy, was opened a little over six months ago in Florence by Francesco Sanapo, three-time Italian Barista Champion (2010, 2011, 2013) and finalist at WBC 2013.

In a country where coffee is “Espresso” by definition and filter brewing methods are almost unknown Francesco took up the challenge to offer Italian customers something different. To combine the tradition of espresso Italiano with a Third Wave approach to specialty coffee roasting and brewing. To be artisans of coffee but in a modern way.

In this short time Ditta Artigianale has become a popular destination for locals, tourists, and expats, so Francesco’s strategy seems to have paid off.

The fact that Italy’s first specialty coffee shop opened in Florence rather than bigger cities like Rome or Milan may come as a surprise at first. On closer inspection, though it all makes sense: Florence is one of Italy’s most cultural cities, each year attracting droves of international students and creative types who decide to make the Tuscan city their home. Why? Because of Florence beauty, unmatched artistic relevance and historic impact on shaping Italy’s linguistic and cultural heritage.

Of course not forgetting Tuscany’s world-famous food and wine-making industries. Customers who live in a city surrounded by vineyard estates and are familiar with the complexities and depths of wine tasting are more likely to understand that coffee requires the same level of care and appreciation. In short, Florentine people made the ideal customers to introduce specialty coffee to Italy.

As you can imagine, there are a dozen other bars serving espresso within a short distance from Ditta Artigianale, so what makes Sanapo’s coffee shop different? An espresso in Florence normally costs 1€; at Ditta the house blend espresso costs 1.50€, but the specials can cost up to 8€ a cup. So how do you justify the higher prices and convince your customers that your product is worthy?

The answer is education and introducing your customers to a brand new way of appreciating coffee. All the staff at Ditta Artigianale are prepared to answer questions about the coffee origin, preparation, and quality or if you meet Francesco behind the bar, he will tell you the stories of each coffee, of the plantations where the beans were grown and the farmers who worked hard to produce that high-quality product.

The customers’ education process at Ditta Artigianale follows three steps: an introduction to the coffee aroma; espresso tasting and acidity; flavour notes of chocolate and caramel.

During my visit to Ditta Artigianale, I got the chance to sit down for a chat with the cafe’s Head Barista, Lucian Trapanese, former barista of Fred & Fran in London. When asked about the difficulties he encountered working in specialty coffee in Italy, Lucian replied “I didn’t find any, because I have the support of an amazing team of baristas who work hard every day to make great coffee. The daily challenge, so to speak, is explaining to every person that enters Ditta why our coffee is different and prepare them for a new experience.”

Lucian and Francesco also organise a series of workshops, three or four times a month, for those who want to learn more about how to run a coffee shop, be a barista and brewing methods.

Francesco’s main goal with Ditta Artigianale is to communicate to his customers how much work and skills go into preparing a cup of coffee. Changing the client perspective of espresso: not something that is consumed quickly while standing at the counter, almost like a medicine, but a drink that is savoured slowly and appreciated fully.

In the few hours I spent at Ditta Artigianale, I noticed three types of customers: Italians who stop by for an espresso on-the-go; tourists who order over-sized cappuccinos (the “Big Cappuccio”); and expats (mostly Australians and Americans) who come for the Flat Whites and filters.

With such a varied customer base, the key to Ditta Artigianale’s success was finding a way to address the different needs and expectations of the people to drink their coffee. To do that, they diversified their menu between “Italian Style” drinks (espresso-based) and “International Style” ones like filter coffee and cold brew.

Ditta Artigianale also offers a variety of coffees to choose from (all 100% specialty): their signature Jump espresso blend and rotating single origins (one for espresso and two for filter changing every week). Finally, customers have the option to choose between three brew methods for filter coffee: syphon, Aeropress, V60.

The coffee used by Ditta is bought green and directly from the farmers, thanks to Francesco’s long-lasting relationships with coffee manufacturers and his regular trips overseas to visit the plantations. The beans are then imported to Italy and roasted in the Tuscan city of Arezzo using a small Brambati roasting machine (7kg per batch).

This way Francesco can retain the quality control of his coffee every step of the process. In a country like Italy where the majority of the coffee served in cafes has some defects, Ditta Artigianale’s specialty coffee has set a completely new standard.

Jump is a 100% specialty coffee blend: Brazil Fazenda Pantano, Colombia Tolima Planada, and Ethiopia Yrgacheffe Kolisha. It’s brewed respecting the Italian parameters of espresso and the result is a low acidity coffee with a smooth body, jasmine and citrus notes and chocolate and caramel aftertaste. It’s a popular choice for the customers at Ditta Artigianale and around 4kg of Jump are brewed every day (against 1kg of specialty coffee).

Another notable difference between Ditta Artigianale and any other Italian coffee bar: the counter has been designed to be lower than average to leave the espresso machine in full view (they use a Strada by Florence-based La Marzocco) and encourage the conversation between customers and baristas.

With Ditta Artigianale Francesco Sanapo has put Italy on the map of specialty coffee and proven that there is space in the Italian market for better quality coffee and different brewing methods. Perhaps it won’t be long before other coffee shops will follow his example.

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