We chat with the 2019 World Brewers Cup finalist about opening Aroma at the dawn of specialty coffee.
BY TANYA NANETTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Alessandro Galtieri
Alessandro Galtieri is an endearingly odd figure in the Italian specialty-coffee scene. He’s essentially a kid that never grew up, winning third place at the World Brewers Cup in 2019 and defeating several competitors that were nearly half his age.
From my eyes, he is one of the most knowledgeable people in the Italian coffee world, but he’s still incredibly humble. Alessandro opened Aroma, which many already consider a “historical” specialty-coffee shop in downtown Bologna, in 2001—when in Italy the specialty-coffee scene was almost nonexistent.
He’s famous worldwide, especially amongst people who come all the way from Asia to drink his V60 pourovers, but mostly unknown by locals in Bologna. Alessandro is all of this, so we talked to him about specialty coffee, Aroma, the World Brewers Cup, and much more.
Tanya Nanetti: When and how did you first discover specialty coffee? For most of us it happened in places like Stumptown, Square Mile, or in a tiny specialty-coffee shop like your lovely little café Aroma … but what about the end of the ‘90s? It shouldn’t have been easy to discover this new “coffee scene,” especially if we think that you weren’t in London or New York City or Melbourne, but in the tiny Bologna.
Alessandro Galtieri: It may seem strange, but at that time I was already looking for something different in the world of coffee. … The presentation was boring, very flat, made only of blends. No one was able to tell me more about coffee. Times were very different and the internet didn’t even exist. Fortunately, it was in Bologna that I met a roaster who, in those unsuspecting times, had started making a diversified offer of premium coffee and Gran Cru [Kenyan coffee]. I tasted a Sidamo … and I realized that I had never drank coffee until that moment.
And then, after the first contact with the specialty-coffee world, you had the idea to open your own café, with a proper “espresso menu.” And again, it was at the beginning of this millennium, and you were in a place where, for most of the customers, coffee was “just coffee” (and it should have been bitter, dark, and served with a lot of sugar). What pushed you to open it? How did people react to something so new and so different?
I already owned a place, but it was a simple Italian bar. I had to find a person who could follow me with such a crazy idea for those times (2001!!!), and luckily Cristina (Alessandro’s partner and now wife) accepted. The place has become Aroma, with an incredible coffee list for the times: 15 different options between blends and single origins with Arabica, Robusta, and Gran Cru. And what we did was pretty simple. In the short time it took a customer to drink a coffee, we tried to explain everything about it. … We tried our best to make [conversation] … and it worked!
Let’s jump ahead a few years. After becoming an SCA trainer, you took part in Brewers Cup competitions. You won two Italian cups, and you ended participating in two World Brewers Cups. Brazil 2018 was really unfortunate (with an electric malfunction that jeopardized your result), but Boston 2019 was your moment. You, the outsider, the older guy from Italy, the one with no big team behind you, actually stood on the podium. What pushed you through all those competitions? Where did you find the strength, the passion, the motivation to keep pushing? Were you confident you could reach levels so high, or was it a surprise?
Even if I may sound presumptuous, I honestly tell you that from the moment I started competing I was determined to reach the highest level. As they say … I compete to win. The mini team made up of Cristina and me amazed everyone at the World Championships, showing that everyone has a chance to reach the top if they try their hardest.
You’re a big champion, but you’re also an everyday barista, and I’m so curious. … Let’s talk about a classic day at Aroma. How do you manage to put all your knowledge, all your skills, all your amazing coffees into a simple espresso?
I simply always look for the best. There is no simple espresso, (because) our care is always the utmost. This is the only way to make specialty coffee. Each cup, each preparation, hot, fresh or delicious, must be made with care and professionalism. With Aroma, we are for the cafetería.
Let’s move to your daily life. Competitor, barista, trainer … and you’re also the author of various books about coffee. But what else? What else do you love? What passions drive you? What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
What free time? Hahaha! When I can take a few moments of relaxation I love to read about astronomy and geological phenomena. A visit to the museums of a European and non-European capital, an excellent restaurant … what else? Ah, yes a good coffee, but as a customer!
Last but not least: point-blank questions. I’ll give you 10 random things and you tell us what you choose, no explanation needed.
Espresso or pourover? Pourover.
Aeropress: Inverted or regular? Inverted.
Coffee or wine? Coffee.
Pizza or pasta? Pasta.
Comfort food or a fancy restaurant? Fancy restaurant.
A good book or a good movie? Impossible to choose!
Football: yes or no? No.
A good day chilling at the beach or a nice retreat in the countryside? If the beach is desert, why not …
Morning person or night owl? Inevitably, morning person.
Classical music or rock music? Rock.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Tanya Nanetti (she/her) is a specialty-coffee barista, a traveler, and a dreamer. When she’s not behind the coffee machine (or visiting some hidden corner of the world), she’s busy writing for Coffee Insurrection, a website about specialty coffee that she’s creating along with her boyfriend.