We chat with the Italian coffee professional about her work with Barista Hustle, her project Coffee Soul Relief, and more.
BY TANYA NANETTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Jessica Sartiani
Jessica Sartiani (she/her) is a key figure in the growing specialty-coffee scene in Italy. She’s not only a barista and trainer, but she’s also engaged in the barista activism community through online engagement, interviews, and collaborations. Jessica is the daughter of a Florentine father and a Filipino/African American mother; she has plenty to say about her upbringing, the specialty-coffee scene in Italy, and much more.
Tanya Nanetti: Hey Jessica, from what we’ve learned from your social media, you’re quite a busy girl. You’ve got so many interesting things going on!
Jessica Sartiani: Ciao! Yes, actually it’s a busy period. I’m working with DM Italia (supplier of many coffee brands), I’m a brand ambassador for Anfim, I collaborate with Gruppo Cimbali, and during the weekends I still work in a café called Melaleuca in Florence.
I feel it’s still so important for the growing specialty-coffee industry in Italy to keep on talking with customers about what they’re drinking, and that’s why it’s so difficult for me to stop my barista job.
So many cool things! Let’s start with Barista Hustle. It’s still a new and popular business in the specialty-coffee scene, especially in countries like Italy (where for many, the fact that the website is just in English can still be a problem). How did you discover them and how did you become a trainer?
I remember back in the days when I was working at Ditta Artigianale, and I used to read the BH blog together with my colleagues. At that point I would never have believed if someone had told me that, after a few years, I would have started to collaborate with them.
I met Gwilyn Davies during the Amsterdam Coffee Festival, and after a few months he wrote a post asking if any trainers were interested in a new project, I wrote to him. A few months later at the World Barista Championship, we met with the BH team for the launch of BH coaching, bringing to class what until then was only available online.
In Italy, for sure the linguistic aspect is blocking the spread of BH … but once you discover it you immediately recognize the formative value of the project (and I’m actually taking care of the translations, but it will take some time).
And what about your personal project, Coffee Soul Relief?
My project was born when I realized the absence of a space in which to deal—without filters—with uncomfortable issues such as racism, homophobia, and aesthetic and social class discrimination. I followed foreigner pages that talked about these issues in the world of coffee. But in Italy, nobody (at least in my knowledge) has ever dealt before with issues such as the gender gap, racism, or what happens in the countries of origin on a social and political level.
After all, in Italy, we still have to deal with job advertisements that start with “good-looking barista wanted“ instead of “trained barista“; there are still expos where in front of the stand there are “image“ girls whose only purpose is to attract interested men, more (about) making jokes and winks rather than showing the quality of the product. So it is not a big surprise that (most) of the coffee world in Italy simply doesn’t care about all these problems.
That’s basically why I’ve created Coffee Soul Relief: creating change takes a long time, and one of the first steps is to inform people. I would like people to stop isolating, bullying, and hurting those who are different from them by skin color, sexual orientation, or different class, and in my opinion all this can only happen if we know the stories of others and if we put ourselves in others’ shoes.
Right now, CSR is just an Instagram page, in an embryonic stage, but I would like it to grow, giving word to anyone who wants to share their story or tackle “uncomfortable“ issues: I would really like CSR to be a reflection of its meaning, a space that is a cure, a cure for the soul.
You told us about the problems that the coffee world still faces in Italy, so this question is maybe obvious, but: Someone like you, who speaks multiple languages, who really knows her way around coffee, can probably climb the ladder faster relocating somewhere else in Europe. I’m thinking about a big city, with a nice specialty coffee scene … why did you choose to stay in Italy? Are you happy about your choice or you plan to go somewhere else?
Well, I know it sounds crazy to stay here, and the idea to leave Italy and move to a place where specialty coffee is more popular has always attracted me.
But I decided to stay because, in order to increase the quality and knowledge of coffee, someone has to stay.
Working with the aforementioned companies, I have the opportunity to educate (about) the realities of the Italian coffee world that has been working in the same way for over 70 years … they don’t always change their minds, but if two out of 10 do it, it is already a good start.
We are talking about a country faithful to its own traditions, both in culture and in taste, and maybe it will take years, but knowing that you can be among those who have tried to make this change makes me happy.
Of course, in cities like London and Melbourne it would be easier … but try to imagine Florence in a few years: a big, international town where it will not be difficult to find a good pourover, and you’ll be able to enjoy it with the view of Ponte Vecchio. Is it not fantastic?
What are your goals professionally speaking? What are you planning for the future?
I don’t really know what I want to be when I grow up. I wish to be always enthusiastic about my job, and I really want to be helpful, bringing something useful along all the coffee chains.
Last but not least, tell us something more about Jessica as a person. How do you spend your days? Something not coffee related?
My days cannot be my days without coffee and music. In my life I passed (through) a lot of “music periods.” Heavy metal and punk as a teenager; punk Oi and hardcore shows in my 20s, together with reggae and northern soul DJ sets.
In the last few years I have increased my culture of Black music, from blues to hip hop and new soul. Now, thanks to COVID, it isn’t easy to join a show, but I always listen to new artists and I love when I have time to properly enjoy it … the right song at the right moment can really change your mood.
Plus, lately there’s a new “element” at home: Frida, my dog. She gives me the chance to switch off for one or two hours every day … and it’s the best time ever, when you don’t look at the phone, but you simply enjoy the moment, for real.
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.