10 Minutes With Alessandro Zengiaro: Part One

Alessandro is an Italian white male who sits smiling holding a plaque with his latte art champion trophy.

We interview the winner of the (rescheduled) 2020 U.K. Latte Art Championship.

BY TANYA NANETTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE

Photos courtesy of Alessandro Zengiaro

For followers of latte art competitions around the world, a pretty odd thing happened recently: An Italian guy won the U.K. Latte Art Championship. What’s so odd about that, exactly? As an Italian writer, I can confirm the fact that specialty coffee (and everything related) is generally more widespread in the United Kingdom than in Italy … we talked about this and much more with Alessandro Zengiaro, the guy who “ruled them all” in the recent competition.

Alessandro Zengiaro is the winner of the 2020 UK Latte Art Championships.

Tanya Nanetti: Let’s start from the beginning. An Italian moves to the United Kingdom and in a couple of years wins the U.K. Latte Art Championship. How was it? How did it feel?

Alessandro Zengiaro: Well, it was really cool! Especially because it happened in the same year in which we won the European (Football) Championship! Joking apart, of course I was super happy, and to me it was even more meaningful because I won not in my own country, but in a place I moved to not so long ago. Plus, it was my first competition abroad. 

And the next step is the World Latte Art Championship, which will be held (hopefully) next June in Warsaw, Poland … and there you’re going to compete against Carmen Clemente, the Italian champion. Any idea how you will feel? 

Well, let’s simply say that for the first time in my life I will not cheer for Italy but for the U.K.! And then, if something “bad” happens, Italy will be for sure my team of choice!

Let’s go back a couple of years, when you decided to leave Italy: Why did you do it? Do you want to go back one day or another?

Let’s start with, “Do you want to go back?” For sure. I know one day I will. I don’t know if in Turin, but for sure I will go back. I really love the Italian lifestyle, especially in the long term. 

Going back to, “Why did you leave Italy in the first place?” I would do it again, for sure. The last two years and a half gave me exactly what I was looking for. I left Italy because at the time I felt like I had stopped growing, professionally speaking. In Italy there are (there were) so few specialty-coffee opportunities, so to look for something new I should have moved anyway to Milan, or Rome … and so I thought, “Why (not) do a big step and move abroad?” 

I had so many cities in mind: Melbourne, Berlin, Amsterdam … but then London was my final choice. I always dreamt about London, I already knew the language … it was the perfect choice.

Alessandro moved from Italy to the United Kingdom to pursue his ambitions in specialty coffee, and in just two years became the country’s latte art champ.

That’s an interesting point, because for so many young Italians, London is just a dream. The dream. And you did it. But how is it, for real? 

Full of Italians! Joking apart, all the things that scared me before I moved (the weather, the rain, the language …), simply “disappeared.” Talking about the different languages, for instance, I was scared that it would inhibit some job opportunities … but this and all the others were just unfounded fears. I didn’t regret my choice, not for one minute. 

Well, that’s really important! And what are you doing exactly in London? What is your job?

Well, I’m working for one of the coolest specialty-coffee roasters in London, Assembly Coffee, as technical lead. Basically, I fix stuff. I’m the guy behind the maintenance and the servicing for our clients. For instance: Let’s say that you’re a coffee shop that serves our coffee, and your grinder doesn’t work or your coffee machine’s got some trouble … I’m the one that is going to come and fix it (both coming in person, or sending an engineer, or anything the client needs). 

Plus, I take care of the workshop (that’s full of all the spare parts), and I’m also in the account managing department. In this exact moment I’m also taking care of our stand in the London Coffee Festival … and there’s so much to do!

So right now you’re not working anymore as a barista, as you used to do in Italy. Do you miss it?

In some way, I surely do. Doing coffee all day was pretty cool, and I really miss the “social” aspect of being a barista (especially as I did in Italy, when I often had time to chat with customers, in comparison with my brief experience as a barista here in London, where mostly the coffee “experience” is based on takeaway), but I don’t miss the job. It was cool being a barista, I’m happy I did it, but now it’s time for something else. 

And what about your free time? Are you visiting a lot of coffee shops? And what about the specialty-coffee scene in the U.K. compared to in Italy?

Of course I am! It’s one of the coolest things about living in a city like London. It is like having a new SIGEP (the Italian hospitality expo) every week. 

When I was living in Italy there were really few realities, no public cuppings, no small competitions … here (it) is completely different. 

Here there are specialty-coffee shops on every corner, there is always something happening. Here you can always find someone to talk with about coffee, and your average “final consumer” usually knows a lot about coffee. Everything is more exciting, everything happens faster here. That’s why living here helps you grow professionally so fast. In the time I’ve spent here, so many things happened to me… it’s just amazing, but also tiring. That’s why I know that I’ll be back to Italy one day or another, to move back to a more “chill” way of life.

Tune in tomorrow, when we learn more about the inspiration behind Alessandro’s designs, and tips he has for other aspiring latte artists.

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. 

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