town ten miles outside of Naples. A little beyond the off-ramp, a security guard monitors the gate to Café do Brasil’s roasting factory (also known by one of its brands, Caffe Kimbo).
Café do Brasil traces it roots back to the three Rubino brothers – Francesco, Gerardo, and Elio – who in the 1950’s began to roast coffee beans in their father’s pastry shop and sold their blends in paper bags. Their success exploded in the 1960’s with the invention of the tin can. Now coffee could be preserved for longer periods and shipped over wider distances. People no longer needed to roast taw beans at home, buying blends from a store instead. Café do Brasil became one of the forerunners of this trend, establishing their Melito factory in 1963.
While café-bars today can be found at least twice on every block, more than seventy percent of coffee drinking still takes place in the home. Café do Brasil caters to this market need, their blends a new ubiquitous sight in every grocer store.
Signora Rubino takes me from the administrative offices past massive trucks, to the far end of the complex, we enter a warehouse rumbling with wall-to-ceiling machinery. Hidden from the naked eye, coffee beans whisk through long tubes into silos, scales, and roasting machines. In the middle stands the ‘brain’ of the warehouse – a trailer brimming with hi-tech computers.
Several operators in white coats greet me with a Buongiorno and return their focus to the screens. Café do Brasil buys raw beans from Interkom, a company located in downtown Naples. An engineer takes out a pointer and explains the roasting process to me as seen on several computer displays: raw beans are separated into many silos. Operators open and close values, dropping beans into a large vat. They can distinguish anywhere from 101 to 117 different qualities of beans and their skill lies in blending them together.
When a blend is ready, they weigh the beans on a scale. They then wait for one of four roasters to open and tell the computers to drop the beans inside. Café do Brasil roasts 400 kilograms of beans approximately every eight minutes at temperatures ranging from 200-220 degrees Celsius.
The engineer shows me how raw beans chink down through a metal tube and into a can where operators can physically see and touch a sample of raw beans they plan to roast.
After the roasting is complete, a sample of the beans clank down through an adjacent tube, where operators evaluate the final product. The roasted beans then whisk through tubes into silos meant for maturing, a process which takes anywhere from a few days to a maximum of seven days.
Signora Rubino takes me to the packaging side of the warehouse where assembly-line equipment pull and fold Kimbo labels on a turnstile to create coffee bags. One machine drops coffee grinds inside the packages, another clamps down to vacuum-seal them. The coffee bags then roll along a conveyor belt to where a monster mechanical arm lifts them onto a palette. From there, a bright yellow robot drives up, digs a fork into several palettes, and transports the coffee to trucks waiting outside.
When we return to the administrative offices, Signora Rubino explains that Café do Brasil supports two different brands – Caffe Kimbo and Caffe Kose. Each brand has its own blends that range from the fragrant taste qualities of Aroma Espresso to the milder acidic tones of Caffea Arabica. Their best selling Macinato Fresco has a nutty aroma with a bittersweet taste.
According to the company website, the Macinato Fresco is made up of beans from Brazil. But when I ask what kind of beans Café do Brasil specifically uses, Signora Rubino explains that the company buys beans that come from many different parts of the world. What’s more, beans can be roasted for different amounts of time at different temperatures. The roasting process, therefore, is complex.
“But does Café do Brasil want to maintain the reputation given to southern Italy of making dark semi-sweet coffee?” I ask.
Signora Rubino says no. Their company doesn’t want to be known for creating one strong flavor, but rather they strive for an equalization of many flavors and aromas, balancing astringency, acidity, and sweetness together.
So what is the roast recipe for any one of their blends? Aaah. Now that’s proprietary. Only the nose and palette can truly ascertain. But the delight, for a coffee lover, lies in the guessing.
(See my article in INeedCoffee.com for more.)