The budding Italian coffee scene is expanding, despite there being a long way to go still. Canadian Brent Jopson takes a wild gamble and opens a specialty coffee joint with modern extraction methods in Milan.
Opening in Milan
“My wife is a Milan native. Besides this I think this is the obvious choice for any ambitious entrepreneur wishing to do things a little different in Italy. Locals here are more open to new experiences, so original trends catch on rather quickly”. Brent Jopson’s choice of moving to Milan comes from the fact that it’s a place that’s in constant evolution and increasingly attractive to world travellers. When you’re spoiled for coffee choice in Vancouver – Brent’s home – opening a coffee bar in Italy is a gamble and represents significant weight. Brent and his wife Giulia Gasperini intend to stay in town, taking advantage of the bubbling food and beverage scene with varied price points and brand new concepts. In a country where coffee drinking is a religion, last month in the list of quality coffee bars in Milan, there’s a new name: Orsonero Coffee.
Last month’s opening in the Buenos Aires area for Brent and Giulia is already proving the idea was a bright one. Locals and tourists are starting to flock here. The interiors are designed by Forestieri Pace Pezzani architectecture studio. The concept behind the design is New World coffee houses: light wood paneling, sleek lines, minimal decor. Behind the counter a La Marzocco espresso machine and various implements for alternative extraction methods, like v60, aeropress, cold brew filter coffee and French press. All the beans are specialty, for the time being the blend of choice is roasted in the Forlì Gardelli Specialty Coffees. In the future the coffee menu is due to include more roasts “Among the Italian roasters I like Rubens Gardelli and Francesco Sanapo of Ditta Artigianale, but there are many others I need to try. I recently tasted Nero Scuro from Bassano del Grappa. Their website is very well crafted, with an e-commerce platform that makes blends and single origin beans easy to purchase with one click”, Brent explains. Other coffees will be sourced: “There are many quality roastersin Europe and beyond. I hope to bring as much coffee as possible in the new Milan space”. Currently Orsonero is a coffee bar per se, no cakes or food served, only croissants for breakfast, baked at Loria bakery. “We’re looking to adding a handful of dishes and homemade baked goods asap”, he adds. Besides coffee, also 12 kinds of tea.
Italy and Canada face to face
Among new coffee selections, a few notable Canada names: “The coffee scene in Vancouver is truly exceptional, with some of the best coffee houses in North America. A must on any coffee connoisseur’s agenda”. Brent lists these interesting roasters, 49th Parallel, Matchstick, Bows and Arrows, Timbertrai and Phil and Sebastian.Expressing his opinion of Italian coffee: “I’m in love with Italian coffee culture. The experience of sipping espresso at the counter is unique. If well extracted and artfully balanced, espresso can be a fantastic beverage”. Unfortunately it’s very hard to find properly extracted espresso: “Specialty coffees are hard to find – and in general quality coffee – in Italian neighborhood bars. In addition, baristas are often not properly trained. In Milan something is slowly changing”.
The most relevant issue is price: “Italian customers expect to pay one Euro for an espresso. This makes it impossible to serve a quality brew. There are many valid roasters, but their value is undermined”. Fortunately Brent and Giulia’s coffee bar will help improve quality and raise the bar, no pun intended. Just opened Orsonero is already selling various filter coffees daily: “Clientele has positively welcomed the new format and many clients are trying filter coffee for the firat time. They are impressed and they keep coming back. This creates word-of-mouth”, Giulia explains.
Brent Jopson: training
How did Brent learn to extractcoffee? “I started as an autodidact. I have always been a coffee lover always. In Vancouver I frequented several places serving specialty coffee. I was intrigued and tried making the beverage at home.” Information on the topic is vastly available to everyone, and “anyone can learn to extract coffee well with a few simple tools.” Just a v60, a scale, a grinder and a lot of practice. The research, however, must be thorough and aided by professional courses if you want to start a business: “I attended SCAE barista courses and roasting classes here in Italy and I’m going to continue to follow other lessons to improve my skills.” Nowadays, Italian espresso is Brent’s preferred extraction method: “I love to experiment with various machines and try different recipes and doses for the various types of coffee they each use, depending on the variety and the degree of roasting. For me, it is the most difficult and fascinating way.”
This is a risky choice for Brent: abandoning his beloved Vancouver in full coffee Renaissance, to seek insight into the Milan food and beverage world, one that’s however still not evolved in terms of coffee. The couple has various plans for the future: “We would like to open another café with a kitchen. My wife is a pastry chef and we would be able to serve both our creations.” Not only sweet food: “An increasing number of coffee shops in Vancouver are starting to serve interesting menus with mouth-watering dishes. This is the time to combine good coffee good food”. And maybe one day he can also get a small space for a roaster: “In Canada I roasted my own coffee but it was more of a hobby than a profession. We are more interested in the bartending world, but I can’t exclude the possibility of beginning to roast seriously, one day.” And not even rule out the possibility of returning to Canada, “where I would like to open a specialty coffee bar”, after the experience in Italy. But for now Milan remains the stomping ground: “This is my work. Just think of what happened in this city with the sector of craft beer. It virtually exploded overnight”.
Orsonero Coffee | Milan | via Broggi, 15 | te. 366 5477441 | www.facebook.com/orsonerocoffee/?fref=ts
by Michela Becchi
translated by Eleonora Baldwin