“Good coffee should leave the mouth clean,” asserts Alessio Baschieri, an extraordinary, passionate specialist in coffee defects, plantation engineer, head of teaching at AICS’ Italian Coffee School, trainer at the tasting laboratories of Central American governments and founder, together with his wife Antonella, of L’Albero del Caffè, an artisan roastery in Anzola dell’Emilia, which specialises in organic coffee, specialty coffee and precious blends or blends specially designed for individual consumers and cafés.
The taste of ethics
L’Albero del Caffè’s main focus is “the taste of ethics”, namely commitment to making coffee of high organoleptic quality and respect for the environment and for transparency rules throughout the production chain, which should be free from pollution and worker exploitation. Because “coffee should warm the heart” and indeed, Alessio’s work is guided by his heart: this is evident in the passion that he expresses and in the projects that he has completed with Slow Food and with various companies that had to be rebuilt in the wake of devastating civil wars. “Even after terrible conflicts,” he assures us, “there are still fantastic, isolated, ‘virgin’ places in the world that can produce authentic unknown pearls. Discovering and promoting these plantations helps producers to escape from poverty, to defend and preserve these places and to take pride in their ancestral culture (rather than seeing it as a limitation). Everything revolves around this notion: if you find coffee without defects, it opens a practically unexplored world of opportunity that is waiting to be discovered.”
The importance of defects
Paradoxically, there are more defects than characteristics and they risk not being recognised even by the most discerning palates. “This is a serious risk,” the expert admits, “because defects tell us that the product can make us sick. They are a way for our body to protect us. It is therefore important that we are able to recognise the defects, since there is still little discussion of this subject, even though, for several reasons, there should be widespread awareness, not only so people can recognise good coffee, but also so they can understand the long, complicated and hidden journey between plant and cup.” For over two decades,
Baschieri has studied defects, going straight to the heart of the problem: “Often,” he stresses, “the negative characteristics of coffee come from obstacles that have impeded proper harvesting, fermentation and processing of the drupes and beans.”
Clean and straight to the heart
Human barriers can be overcome by finding social solutions for growth and true cooperation. From nursery school to school education, from the canteen to women’s empowerment, there are many ways to support growers in their work, but certainly strengthening social identity and lightening the burden of concerns related to the community and other daily issues helps a lot. “Consider,” Baschieri remarks, “a mother who has to harvest perfectly mature coffee cherries and has her children around her or even has to delegate work to them: there is a risk, that many drupes that are over- or under-mature end up in the sack. Another risk is that the drupes that are delivered late, even by just one or two hours, can be over-fermented, a defect that results, once the bean is extracted, in a musty or black tea taste that lingers in your throat.
“The sensation,” the roaster explains, “that should linger after a good coffee is a floral, fruity, citrusy, chocolatey or even woody aroma that can last for up to fifteen or twenty minutes since you drank the coffee. But your mouth, palate and throat should feel clean.”
The importance of community for a high-quality coffee
“To ensure cleanness, even in the broadest sense, the true battle,” says the ‘caffeario’ (coffee man), as he describes himself, “is to choose a coffee without defects, which costs more but fuels awareness and demand for these specific productions. Making a coffee without defects is farmers’ only possibility to strengthen their community, freeing themselves from an economic and financial dependency on multinationals. And you must consider that producers are making a leap into the unknown because they have to wait years before obtaining tangible results, which does not mean getting rich, but rather having an awareness that their life will improve if the community rediscovers its sense of identity in this period. As plantation technicians, we always strive to work on the sense of individual identity, within a family, a community (feeling proud of being part of that cooperative) and a region (for example, I am a Q’etchìs Maya and I am proud to be one, with my blood brothers even if we are divided into 20 cooperatives and potentially in competition). We always have to focus on humility and great imagination because the conditions that need to be changed are rooted in mentality, fossilised in habits and imposed by strong powers.”
The tree of coffee and life
The supply chain is a long, bumpy, difficult journey. It begins in mountains where there is no electricity and where everything follows the rhythm of the seasons, led by humble hands that choose, treat and work the beans. It is a chain that Baschieri knows intimately due to his direct experience as a plantation technician in many projects for various governments, fair trade organizations and the United Nations. L’Albero del Caffè always respects this chain, only using beans whose origin Baschieri has followed at the plantations and continues to follow, with impartial, forward-thinking ethic. Because in his roastery, defects are banned.