Searching for the elusive, perfect cup of coffee, Sara Waxman explores the coffees of Lavazza with Andrea Chiaramello, Vice President Sales, Canada.
Sara Waxman: Since 1895, Lavazza adopted a company vision that prioritizes the economic, human, environmental, and cultural heritage of the countries in which it works. I have read about the Lavazza vision, that it always puts people at the centre, ensuring that a shared journey of sustainability and social responsibility are part of its corporate decision. I am interested in knowing from which countries you get your beans today.
Andrea Chiaramello: Lavazza currently sources beans from many countries. We buy from over 35 coffee producing countries all over the world: Brazil, Columbia, but also more exotic places like Ethiopia, Uganda, Hawaii, Thailand, India, Cambodia. We are always in search of new beans and new sources. The Lavazza know-how is about blending different sources of coffee. Most of our products are a blend of different origins. We essentially explore the producing countries to select the beans used to create the unique blends and unique flavors, because with our experience we can put together coffee from Brazil, Africa and Asia and create a unique experience for our customers.
SW: Where are the beans roasted?
AC: All the beans that come from around the world are shipped to Italy. We have several roasting facilities. We have two in Northern Italy, one in Torino, our headquarters, one in Novara nearby and one in the South near Naples. The two main factories in the North are the two largest roasting facilities in Europe. We have always had a very diversified portfolio. This is part of our identity–what we do. Our portfolio is very wide, many coffees to choose from. We essentially believe that there is the right coffee for every consumer. We don’t want to be that company that is so arrogant that goes in the market and tells our consumers this is the best coffee, this is the way it’s supposed to taste. We have something different for every taste. Somebody might like a more traditional flavor with chocolate notes, another consumer might like just the opposite with a very fruity, high in acidity kind of level. Who are we to tell you who is right and who is wrong?
SW: So how do I know what to choose?
AC: It is best is to experience them all.
SW: I notice that there’s a difference in the prices. The coffee that’s called Rosa is different from the Organic Tierra and the Grand Selezziona.
AC: Obviously the price reflects the cost of the raw materials, so basically certain blends use beans that cost more. Generally speaking, organic coffee is pricier than non-organic. But not all of our coffees are organic.
SW: While you have something for every taste, does the popularity of certain coffee vary from, say, North America to say South America to Europe?
AC: Absolutely yes. There is for sure a very wide variance of tastes across the world and also method of preparation. We sell our coffees in 95 countries around the world. Once you bring your coffee beans home, you can grind it very fine to use in an espresso machine, or you can make a much coarser grind to prepare a filter coffee or French press and it depends again on your personal taste and your cultural environment. So yes, the variance across cultures and countries can be quite significant.
SW: So, what’s the most popular coffee in Toronto?
AC: Among the Lavazza blends for sure Qualita Rossa is the #1 seller in Canada.
SW: Do you find that climate change is affecting the plantations in any significant ways?
AC: Unfortunately, yes. Climate changes, specifically global warming that is affecting our planet, is creating several issues. First of all, a change in the climate pattern; also, it’s the fact that the coffee grows around the equator in very old countries, in tropical environments, and these countries in the last years have been more and more disrupted by severe droughts. Droughts are where there are a lot of wildfires destroying plantations as well, and at the same time on the other end, some other counties were severely affected by floods, so all these environmental changes are affecting the harvest.
The coffee plantations destroyed by a drought or a fire or a flood takes years to grow again, and these cause rising costs from plantations around the world. Lucky for us that Lavazza sources beans from so many suppliers and from so many countries that we will always be able to manage to secure the green coffee we need—however, we will be paying a premium for a priority to buy and to select the best qualities. So, it has been challenging also for us, but we have successfully managed to secure what we’ve needed.
SW: Is Lavazza becoming a household name in Canada?
AC: Well yes and no, results in data show that our brand awareness in the last five years grew from less than 30% to almost 70%. We are becoming more and more popular. The coffee that is most widely used by Michelin star restaurants around the world is Lavazza. I believe we serve 90 Michelin Star restaurants around the world.
SW: I see many coffee makers in your showroom. Do you sell them commercially?
AC: Our coffee makers are provided free on loan to our restaurant customers. Of course, we ask them to sign a contract based on coffee consumption. But most important, to make sure our coffees are prepared correctly, so when we sell our coffee to a restaurant, it is not enough to sell them our coffee. We must engage with them to make sure they have the correct machine, and we provide the maintenance and we provide the training, to make sure that they serve a good cup of coffee. Because at the end of the day if they do a poor job in preparing the coffee, we can supply them the best coffee in the world, but if they prepare it in the wrong way, the consumer will have a terrible cup of coffee, and at the end of the day, that is our name on the account. That’s why we invest in equipment, we invest in training, we invest in maintenance to make sure our customers are in good shape and serve an excellent cup of coffee.
SW: Are restaurants eager to take advantage of this service and come for the training?
AC: Absolutely yes, they are starving for training, especially now after covid, it has created huge issues with staff. There is a definite need, and we have people coming to our training center every day.
SW: Let’s choose a country. What are some of the specific methods that your farmers employ with sustainability in mind?
AC: I like to use Cuba as an example. Cuba, not many people know, has a very long history of coffee plantations. Then, for a number of reasons, mainly political, but also the exploitation of the tobacco industry, the coffee plantations were physically abandoned and unexploited. They were not up to speed with the latest techniques that were the benchmark of the industry. We established a huge engagement with the local community of coffee farmers in order to bring Cuba all the latest agricultural techniques and knowledge about coffee and also created the opportunity for some of them to specialize their production in organic coffee. That coffee is extremely well paid in the market being the more premium one and is also in very high demand. Therefore, they could reposition themselves in a very good way versus the other producing countries.
Since then, Cuba has become competitive again on a worldwide scale and is back on the map. Of course, Cuba is a relatively small country, so we’re not talking about a huge volume of coffee. But from a quality standpoint, and thanks to the intervention of Lavazza and the knowledge that we transfer, we made a relationship between our suppliers and the farmers we buy from, so there is a transfer not only of all the economic and financial results, but also a transfer of knowledge that makes them competitive in the future, makes them grow and makes them better.
For more information visit https://www.lavazza.ca/en_CA.html
Sara Waxman, OOnt, is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.