We chat with the Naples-based owner of Ventimetriquadri about opening a specialty-coffee shop in one of the oldest cities in Italy.
BY TANYA NANETTI
SPECIAL TO BARISTA MAGAZINE ONLINE
Photos courtesy of Vincenzo Fioretto
Naples, Italy, is considered by many people as a place with the best coffee in the world. But here, that kind of coffee is synonymous with something strong and dark, usually bitter and drunk with plenty of sugar.
So it’s quite a surprise to discover that there’s a tiny specialty-coffee shop in town offering something more than this style of coffee. Ventimetriquadri, which opened a little more than four years ago now, has had a significant impact on coffee culture in Naples. We talked with owner Vincenzo Fioretto about coffee, the local scene, and a brief love story that changed everything.
Tanya Nanetti: Hi Vincenzo, let’s start with your personal story: Have you always been a barista? Or did you used to do something completely different?
Vincenzo Fioretto: My love story with specialty coffee begins with another love story, a short relationship with an Australian girl. But let’s start from the beginning: For many years I worked in a large international company in the world of TLC, whose values are still part of my DNA—passion for customers, passion for people, passion for the world around us. When I left the company to open a cafeteria, those values were the drivers of all my choices and behaviors.
And they are the same ones that I have been trying to convey to Giulia, my irreplaceable collaborator, for more than four years. Even if she’s still very young, she’s a really smart and responsible person, and quite often customers think that Ventimetriquadri is her own café, because of the way she manages it even in my absence. Maybe sometimes we fight as husband and wife, but in general we get along very well.
So you left your company, and decided to open a café. Tell us something more about how things went.
The first choice, the one that later turned out to be characteristic for my business, was the raw material, coffee. As a good Neapolitan (native of Naples), I was convinced that I had always been drinking the best coffee in the world, and every time I used to leave the city to travel in Italy and abroad, my first thought upon returning was to sip my creamy and steaming Neapolitan tazzulella.
Well, when I found myself having to choose which roastery “to marry,” at the suggestion of friends I took a tour of the bars in the neighborhood to taste the coffee without sugaring it. My big surprise was that I didn’t like that coffee at all, and just having to choose based on the lowest price contrasted with my idea of finding something valuable that made a difference compared to the others.
Is that the reason you switched toward specialty coffee? It was something you already knew, or it was something completely new?
In some ways, that moment was the turning point for me. At the time I didn‘t know anything about specialty coffee, but it was at that moment that I remembered a gift I received from Jody, a girl from Melbourne I met some time before in Positano. It was a bag of coffee whose name I barely remembered: something followed by “Artigianale,“ based somewhere in the northern part of Italy.
With a quick online search, I found what I was looking for: Ditta Artigianale, based in Florence. So I decided to have a short trip up north and went to Florence to try it: The first sip was quite weird, a strange and sour taste, and in that moment I found myself thinking that maybe being there was just a big waste of time. But after a few more sips, there was a real explosion of flavors, and for the first time in my whole life I was able to drink a coffee without sugar in it … and then I wanted to drink more! And that’s how I made my choice, and decided which way to go.
And you did it in your hometown, Naples … a great challenge! I’m sure it certainly was not easy.
Yes, it was not easy at all, especially in the beginning. But I must say that the initial efforts, all the know-how to be acquired, the difficulty of making customers understand the qualities of specialty, have been amply rewarded by what—for us—are extraordinary successes: the award for best coffee shop of the year at the BarAwards of 2018, the mention in the Lonely Planet and Gambero Rosso guides, and the visits of many colleagues from all over the world.
For sure you work a lot with tourists or specialty-coffee lovers, but how’s it going with the locals? How was their first approach? How did it evolve?
If I had to draw conclusions after these first four years, I would say that specialty has not yet had great success with the Neapolitan public. Our “numbers,” and the absence of openings of new cafés of this kind, for sure testify to this. However, we are happy with the work we are doing, and satisfied for having created a small community of specialty-coffee lovers very close to us. It was nice to see how they went from drinking a single espresso blend, to almost exclusively preferring a double single origin, more fruity, or even how they discovered the pleasure of sipping a filter coffee.
We are also very positive about the future: lately we’ve seen many new realities, many small businesses growing and establishing themselves, many roasters that have introduced specialty coffees alongside traditional blends. It’s for sure a sign that the seeds we are spreading are starting to bear their first fruits.
Let’s talk a little about you outside the world of the coffee shop. Is there something unexpected that you want to share with us?
Well I don’t know, maybe not everyone knows my highly competitive side, that finds carte blanche in tennis; or that I have a green thumb and therefore, when I can, I take refuge in the tranquility of my garden.
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.