Luigi Morello, Export Sales Director at Gruppo Cimbali, discusses the future of coffee and the changing role of the barista in the first of the Global Leader Interview Series.
Luigi Morello is a legend in the coffee industry, and after spending a little bit of time talking with him, it’s not hard to understand why. With an infectious charm and love for coffee, Luigi really inspires passion and desire for adventure.
With over 20 years coffee experience under his belt, Luigi certainly knows the business well. When asked how he first got involved in the industry, his answer was simply - ‘I’ve been involved in the coffee world since forever!’ A textbook example of second generation coffee professionals, Luigi followed in his father’s footsteps, by selling machines with him at the family coffee equipment distribution company.
A desire to travel and to challenge himself after university led Luigi to Gruppo Cimbali. At the time, the company operated a three-year apprenticeship programme – L’Accademia di Cimbali – and gave its students the opportunity to study first hand all aspects of the coffee equipment supply chain, while travelling around the world.
The programme must have done something right because Luigi has been with the company ever since, continuing to travel and to learn every step of the way. After spending time in the R&D and technology department, Luigi found his true home within sales, taking on the role of Global Sales Director in 2004. Today, he also heads up the MUMAC Academy, a training institution for coffee professionals, part of Gruppo Cimbali. It’s clear that his love of learning and enthusiasm for coffee is as strong as when he first started.
We recently caught up with Luigi to talk about the changing role of the barista, the importance of creating a culture of coffee, and the future of the coffee industry.
What has changed most today compared to 20+ years ago when you began in the industry?
The attitude, for sure. All the new developments, the trends and new solutions used to come from the producer. Nowadays, the ball has moved from the producer to the coffee specialist – and indeed the baristas. So today, the trends, the innovations, and the market needs are all clearly expressed from barista organisations and coffee experts such as SCA (Specialty Coffee Association). These are the people who are really innovating and driving the trends and are giving this information to the coffee producers. Then the producers are listening more to the needs of the market and the needs of the barista community.
When did you see that kind of change happen?
It started at the beginning of the new millennium, when these communities started to grow and express their needs and the solutions and technologies required to facilitate their work and ensure consistency.
Another big trend that I’ve noticed developing is in education. In the past, I had been one of the first to give coffee lectures within the industry. I would talk about Robusta and Arabica and nobody knew what that was. Everyone was just impressed or surprised to see two different beans! In the last 20 years, education and training have become very important. Everyone has realised they need to educate, to improve and to increase their coffee knowledge. Today, almost every company has a coffee school.
The Speciality Coffee Association was one of the big players in distributing and spreading the culture of education. This has now been driven throughout the whole industry.
‘The boundaries are blurring between the level of consistency that is typical of the chains, and the theatre that belongs to specialty coffee and the independents.’
How does the future look for the coffee industry?
Today we are in a wave of what I like to call ‘contamination’ or convergence. The boundaries are blurring between the level of consistency that is typical of the chains, and the theatre that belongs to specialty coffee and the independents.
Take for instance the coffee equipment industry - the machine now has to incentivise and facilitate the theatre of the barista. This is because the coffee, or the espresso if you like, has gone from a drink to an experience. That’s another big change and the entire industry needs to support this activity in order for consumption to increase. Customers not only want a quality drink, they also want the experience. The machine is the really important in helping the barista to create this theatre. It’s also very important when innovating that coffee machine producers take into consideration the consistency that’s required – that’s consistency of the temperature, the water, the steam, etc. You can’t have variables in the equipment. In order to support the barista, you need to keep up the consistency of the coffee shop-after-shop.
As the concept of the theatre is so important, we are starting to see the coffee machine being placed in the middle of the shop. In the past, in many countries like Italy for example, the coffee machine was in the back and behind the baristas. Previously, the coffee machines only really needed to be efficient. Today, the machine is also an attractive feature and it is in front of the customer and in front of barista. The layout of the coffee shop is going to change and more attention will be paid to where the machine will go and what design works best. You have to take the barista as the most important player now and design the machine to facilitate them.
‘Yesterday the barista was a machinist, today he is like a sommelier, but tomorrow the barista will be like a chef in his own kitchen.’
How is this likely to affect customer experience in coffee shops?
The challenge is to try and involve the consumer and the coffee lover more and more. When the machine is brought into the centre of the coffee shop, the barista is the first thing the customer sees when they come in. Here, the barista is able talk and interact more with the customer, but they also need to make the show much more attractive. So, the baristas become more professional, they clean the machine more, they prepare the coffee in nicer ways – the whole experience becomes more enticing. This trend is also seen more and more in the restaurant world with open kitchens next to the dining area.
Yesterday, the barista was really a machinist - just a man who specialised in operating the machine. Today the barista is like a sommelier, but tomorrow, he is going to be like a chef in his own kitchen. For me, this is another big trend. The barista is able to manipulate the flavour and the taste of the coffee served, the mix of the ingredients, the origin, the quality of the coffee etc. All these things are bringing the barista closer and closer to the chef.
Which markets around the globe do you expect will see the most growth over the next 3-5 years?
Asia will see considerable growth for sure, as will USA. If we are talking about Europe then I see the UK and Russian markets growing the most in the next few years.
The challenge in the emerging markets will be to transform and to develop a fashion into a culture. In many established markets, coffee is already integrated into the culture. In other markets like Asia, it is a fashion drink. But, through the quality and consistency of the coffee and through education, the espresso can become a drink embedded into the culture.
What are the big issues that our industry must address?
The biggest issue is the education. There is a gap in understanding and being able to recognise and choose quality. The real challenge is to bring education, awareness and passion to the consumer so that they can gain a greater understanding of coffee quality.
The example I often give is with wine. The producer of the wine can control all the quality in the glass because they are ones who are producing and bottling the wine. Then the consumer buys the bottle, they know what they are buying and they just open, pour and drink. There is no one who is contaminating the process.
The coffee however, is different. You can produce the best coffee, but then you give the best coffee to a roaster. You can be the best roaster, but then you give the roasted coffee to the barista. You can be the best barista, but then you put the coffee into the equipment. When you receive your coffee in a cup you are at the end of a chain of several people. That is why the consumer is so sensitive and why we have to take more care over the end user. I believe that if one day we are able to have an educated consumer, then we can dramatically increase the coffee consumption throughout the world – because there is nothing better than a nice cup of espresso!
If you were to start your career all over again, what are the three most valuable learnings that you wished you would have known at the beginning of your career?
This is a very interesting yet difficult question to answer! I was perhaps very lucky – I don’t want to seem arrogant, because, of course, we all make a lot of mistakes, but I was lucky to be surrounded by the best teachers. For me, the most important thing when making your career – and this is true in any industry – is to find people with passion for what you are doing. Another very important point is to never stop learning and to always consider yourself a student. Thirdly, you need to always be open-minded and open to new experiences. I always use the example with my students [at MUMAC Academy] – we have two ears, two eyes and one mouth. Often it can be more important to see and to listen than it is to talk. So then, the three most important learnings to anyone who wants to start a career in our industry are: be passionate, continue learning, and be open-minded.
Luigi Morello (right) with MUMAC Academy Team
Image © MUMAC Academy, 27 March 2017