Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Roasters (Torrefazione)

The Espresso Break:  What makes Neapolitan coffee so distinct?  The answer:  a fine blend of roasted coffee beans.

In a world where Starbucks doesn’t exist and large companies are viewed with skepticism (their products considered shoddy), the small Neapolitan coffee roaster is hailed.

Before the 1960’s when people made coffee at home, they also roasted their own beans.  With the invention of the tin can, coffee beans stayed fresh for longer periods and could be transported over wider distances, so coffee roasting became the domain of specialty businesses.  Today more than 600 coffee roasters compete on the Italian market.

In Naples, café owners use three main criteria in choosing their roasters:   1) they tend to buy local;  2)  roasters should be family owned & run; and 3) the company should have a long history -- being in existence several decades is coveted.

Café owners usually have placards both inside and outside their establishments telling customers which roaster they use.  The roasting company then supplies the cups, saucers, and bean grinders that display their logo.

Neapolitan roasters pride themselves on having a taste unique to the South.  Most make the generalization that southern Italian coffee is darker, stronger, richer, and tends to taste like semi-sweet chocolate.  More specifically, Neapolitan roasters say that while they use up to 70% of the sweet Arabic beans (more often found in South America), they also add a mix of the bitter tasting Robusta beans found in Africa.  They also maintain that their beans aren’t oily (like the French), aren’t acidic, and are roasted both evenly and longer.  Finally, Neapolitan roasters deliberately leave out the medium notes in their coffee.

Roasters generally own companies located in the suburbs so that trucks can more easily access the highway.  Their roasting machines also work behind security manned gates.  Because competition is so fierce, their blends are proprietary and visits by the public are generally not allowed.

I have found at least fifteen roasters within the region.  Caffe do Brasil is the most well-known, holding third place in the whole of Italy for coffee roasting market share.  Here are some of the others I've found:

Most of these roasters only sell to cafe owners, so you'll have to make a visit to Naples in order to enjoy their flavors.  Mmmm.  It's well worth the trip!


LindyLouMac said...

It is bad enough seeing MacDonald's have reached Viterbo but please not Starbucks :(

Gil said...

I remember drinking: Kimbo, Illy, Caffe Moreno, Caffe Greco and Caffe il Signor in Naples and surrounding areas. In the US we buy Illy or some Italian style roast from a shop near Hartford, CT. What I really love about the coffee bars in Naples is that they always offer you a small glass or water either gas or natural and they pre-heat the cups.

joanne at frutto della passione said...

Can you just imagine the reaction of an Italian to a "Tall, fat free, soy Mochacino"? Actually, I think I would like to see that!

Barbara said...

Yes! pre-heated cups and water to cleanse the palette is best! Actually, Naples does NOT have any Starbucks. Not even one. And McDonald's established something like four different restaurants... which all went out of business because nobody wanted to eat there. So Naples is par excellence the domain of the small business owner.

The only interesting thing about that is -- we tend to hail the small business owner as well as organic food bought locally. They do it in Naples... but as a consequence, they also have high unemployment, salaries are paltry, and people generally have a very low standard of living in comparison to the 'big industry & technology' North.

I'm always saddened by this reality.