Friday, October 28, 2011

Italian coffee blends the TRUTH they are the ultimate invention

It amazes me how many people believe that coffee blending is a special art that only the Italians can get right. Unlike wine where the French learnt the art of blending by using the best local produce. Italy DOES NOT, and never had grown its own coffee.

Coffee Blending started out of a necessity of lack of supply. Italy in the 18th century was not a country, it was a collection of city states. From WIKI "Despite a lack of consensus on the exact dates for the beginning and end of this period, many scholars[who?] agree that the process began in 1815 with the Congress of Vienna and the end of Napoleonic rule, and ended in 1871 with the Franco-Prussian War. The last città irredente however, did not join the Kingdom of Italy until after World War I."

This means that from 1815 essentially Italians favourite brew had limited supply. The Dutch, British and Spanish controlled the import and export route, the glory days of the Venetians controlling trade in the Mediterranean were long gone. Between them and the Turks they had introduced Italy and Austria to what was the worlds biggest brew.
The poverty in Italy in the 1800's caused mass 

So necessity being the mother on innovation, people started blending whatever they could to try and get the coffee they loved. And the blended all sorts of things to try and get a great coffee. Where before they had been able to relay on high quality coffee from the Dutch and Venetian importers, their choices where limited.

Add to this that at the same time the largest coffee growing regions started identifying that coffee grown in plantations rather than in highland forests suffered from coffee rust, and the coffee quality was been affected anyway.

So you have contributing factors:

  • Italy is at war with itself, the Austrians, and the French, rations and imports are limited in the first place
  • The quality of world wide coffee is being affected by the mass replanting of crops to be replaced by a lower quality but more robust distant cousin named Robusta, or Robusta Arabica cross breeds.
  • The coffee culture at this point was quite strong, the Austrians and Italians driving demand in main land Europe, feed by the Dutch and French importers
Now wonder all of the most establish blends of Italy come from this period. When I see that a company that claims to have been blending since this time, red flags go up and I think to myself what have these companies have a reference point?

Blends are a way of getting a similar tasted no matter what happens in the year before with regard to agricultural results. Perhaps we should be asking ourselves what are we voting for when we support these products with our money?

Is a crop ever the same year on year? No, blending is not an art of taste it is an art of marketing.

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