A Brief Back-Story
There are around 2.25 BILLION cups of coffee consumed globally every day and Italy is ranked 18th highest in the world for per capita consumption, with each person on average consuming around 3.4 kg/year. That’s a lot of espresso!
Coffee was first brought to Europe in 1580 by Italian botanist Prospero Alpini for its medicinal purposes. However, Europeans got their first taste of coffee as an enjoyable beverage when Venetian merchants experienced the drink in Istanbul and carried it back with them to Venice in 1615. Since then, Italians have committed to establishing a culture surrounding the drink that has dispersed throughout the entire country and survived generations.
This long history with coffee is something that is held in the heart of all Italians. Inventors of the modern espresso, the Moka, and the word barista, as well as being home to household names like Nespresso, Bialetti, San Remo, ILLY, Segafredo Zanetti, and many more; it’s no surprise that Italians take their coffee seriously.
However, (and this is where I might get a little controversial) Italy’s coffee culture is falling behind in a number of key aspects. Where this beautiful country was once revered for its innovation and development in the coffee industry, we now see a case of the Italians finding themselves stuck-in-a-rut resistant to modern barista techniques while others soar past. There are those that say you might NOT find the world’s best espresso in Naples or Milan, but rather Amsterdam, Berlin, Melbourne, or Reykjavik.
Of course, you can find an espresso on every corner in Rome but to find the BEST you might have to dig a little deeper. Don’t worry, I’ve done the leg work (or cup work?) and found the best of the best that Rome has to offer. The guys at Faro are on the forefront of the industry and they are revolutionising the Italian coffee culture one cup at a time.
Faro - Caffe Specialty
Faro, the first independent specialty coffee venue in Rome, was opened by three friends (Dafne, Dario, and Arturo) in December 2016.
What is specialty coffee I hear you ask?
“According to the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), specialty coffee is coffee that has been graded above 80. Much like a movie, its quality isn’t dependent on the acting on the screen, but the writing, production, directing, and everything else that went into the movie, all the way to the final product.” (artizancoffee.com)
So basically it’s coffee that has jumped through every high hoop thrown at it from seedling, through harvest, process, export, and roast, all the way to when it lands in the barista’s hands; from there the barista (the actor in the analogy from the SCA) has the task of extracting the drink from the beans in the most perfectly delicious way possible for you – the customer to enjoy
The team at Faro are not just baristas, or roasters, or chefs, or sommeliers; they are storytellers – moviemakers if you like. They operate with the aim to take you with them on a journey with each and every sip.
The dream team of founders at Faro came together professionally after years of friendship. Like the three legs of a tripod, each of the owners brings a different and essential skill set to the table without which Faro’s success wouldn’t have followed the same trajectory. Dafne comes from a logistics background having worked both domestically and abroad in the supply chain for the food and beverage sectors. With a keen focus on sustainability and fair trade she found something in common with Dario. Dario found his passion for fair trade, traceable, and sustainable hospitality practices during his time working for some of the best Specialty Coffee venues around the world.
After a spell in Melbourne, Australia he moved to London to work with AllPress Espresso UK, and then on to Berlin for a time working at The Barn. During his time at The Barn, Dario developed an affinity for roasting (which has since come in handy with Faro now roasting all of their beans in-house). Dario is a top-tier pro in the industry, competing in World Barista titles and in 2016 being selected as a Specialty Coffee Judge for Milan Coffee Week, so you know he means business with his brews. Arturo, the final piece of this puzzle, came from a background in mixology. Nationally recognised, he provides all the knowledge one man could wish for in the “after-lunch” beverages, with a special focus on artisanal beers.
The Roman Vacations team had the pleasure of sitting down with Dafne and Dario and learning first-hand why the Italian coffee culture needs to be on the brink of revolution.
In a nation accustomed to the 1€ espresso where around 97% of adults drink coffee on a daily basis, we have to ask ourselves what we are actually getting for that price. The average cost for an espresso has stayed almost exactly the same over the last 20 years, hardly even accounting for inflation!!! So I wonder where are suppliers making up for this price ceiling problem. The answer lies predominantly in the sacrifice of sustainable processes and quality. The brain trust behind Faro are, and have from day one, been driven by the concept that fuels the Specialty Coffee industry as a whole; that is: sustainability, traceability, and quality – following your coffee from seedling to sip along each step of the way.
Dafne put it perfectly when she said to us that we have to change the conversation revolving around the price of an espresso in Italy; “it’s not the price, it’s the value” that matters. AMEN!
Now, it’s time to taste-test the theory! (My favourite part)
While we chatted with the team, we were treated to an array of coffees to taste. We tried two of the house-roasted single origins as espressos (with and without milk), but bear in mind that they also offer pour-over filter brews as well.
First, the delightfully rich, medium roasted Brazilian “Rio Brilhante” gave us a silky, nutty, chocolatey vibe that was delicious and familiar as both an espresso and milky coffee. This is the gold standard coffee at Faro: the “bridge” from a classic dark roasted, mixed quality, Italian blend to something pleasing that will satisfy the masses. While the “Rio Brilhante” feels familiar, the experience is incomparable. It’s like you are really TASTING the coffee for the first time rather than just dealing with the bitter and burnt flavours of an espresso, or masking poor flavour by adding sugar. (BIG POINT HERE: Good coffee doesn’t need sugar! Tell your friends!)
Secondly, we tried Faro’s “Gatina” from the highlands in Kenya. This espresso is the one I would recommend to anyone looking to step up their coffee game. Roasted light, this coffee is bright, fruity, mildly acidic, and fun. It leaves your mouth feeling fresh and happy.
Satisfied with our warm brews, we ventured on to try the tiramisù made with the delicious house single origin coffee. We then washed that down with Faro’s very own coffee stout beer. Let me tell you, coffee and stout have never been happier together! Produced in collaboration with Artisan Beer Bar and Eastside Brewing, Faro has adapted their house-roasted Ethiopian “Nano Challa” beans to create a fantastically rich and full-bodied brew of another kind.
Stuffed, highly caffeinated, and a little tipsy we left Faro with a fresh outlook on the coffee industry and its place here in Italy. There are only about 100 specialty coffee venues in a country that is home to over 149,000 coffee bars and it takes pioneers like the team at Faro to pave the way for change in a society’s cultural habits. For a modest price difference you gain an unrivalled improvement on quality and also piece of mind that the product you are consuming is supplied to you with a fair trade and sustainability guarantee. Remember, it’s not price, it’s value that matters.