Francesco Sanapo Reflects on his WBC Experience, Past and Future

Editor’s note: My friend Francesco Sanapo is one of the most endearing coffee professionals I know. Much of what made the 2013 WBC special to me was his accomplishments in Melbourne, getting Italy higher in the competition (6th place) than it has been in a decade.

I saw Francesco in Moscow last week, and he told me about this post he had written for his blog about his perspective on the competition now, after both a few months have past and since he got married: he’s been a busy guy! He reveals so pretty interesting stuff here, and he’s been generous enough to share it here on Barista Magazine’s blog in English. Enjoy.


The story of my WBC

 By Francesco Sanapo

Francesco on stage in the final round of the World Barista Championship, Melbourne, Australia.
Francesco on stage in the final round of the World Barista Championship, Melbourne, Australia.

Finally the moment for me to write this post has arrived! Why didn’t I do this before? Simply because I needed to take a break after a long period of sacrifice and hard work which was 7 months long.

Everything started back in October 2012, when I decided to participate to the Italian Barista Championship, without being conscious that I would have spent Christmas Eve, New Year’s Day and Easter busy and fully dedicated to the preparation of the competition (those who follow me on Twitter and Facebook know that what I’m saying is not a lie).

In the very few lines of this post I’ll try to explain where my idea was conceived and why I decided to do this.

This year I wanted to bring to this competition something that fully reflects reality, something that lowers even more the distance between barista, judges and the public. I wanted to bring everyday life into the 15 minutes that I had for my performance and so one day, when observing by chance the customers of a bar, I had the idea to try to analyze the life of an espresso, from the first drop erogated until the last sip!

I noticed that people who enter a bar to drink an espresso don’t always drink it all at once, but they get lost in chats with a friend, or read a newspaper, and extend the length of time for the consumption of the espresso. At first, these behaviors nearly annoyed me and I was about to go tell each single customer to pay attention to the tasting of the espresso, but then I realized that most people, when they are in front of their coffee, often get lost in their thoughts and ideas while they are sipping and tasting each single phase of evolution of the taste of their drink. So, with pen and paper in my hands, I started to take note of each single movement and the timing of customers while they drink their expresso, and this is what emerged:

first of all, I got myself a stopwatch in order to measure the exact time spent by customers for drinking an espresso, and obviously a notepad to write the exact number of sips and the timing of each one of them. At the end of this study, which took place in different cities such as Florence, Milan, Rome, Lecce, Treviso, Trieste, London. Lyon, Paris, Hamburg, Koln, Barcelona, Athens and last approximately 2 months, I came to the conclusion that the average time spent to drink an espresso is 60 seconds, along an average of 3 sips.

Through this analysis I found inspiration for preparing my performance, which focused on the study and in-depth analysis of the evolution of the taste of the espresso during its, although short, very intense life.

The taste of the espresso changes when its temperature changes: the lower it is, the more you feel different sensations compared to the ones experienced in the first sip, with a total but different involvement of the taste buds. The different taste of the espresso at different temperatures, in my opinion, is something not to underestimate because it’s an important factor which allows the barista to choose the right coffee, since not all coffees are suitable to be extracted as an espresso (sometimes even great coffees, if drunk at different temperatures, might seem undrinkable). My advice is to try this test especially during the study of a mix for espresso, and you can also get clear answers on this while studying the roasting profile of a coffee, when helping the roaster to figure out the differences of taste according to the different roasting curves.

After what I studied and various tests, I came to the conclusion that the coffee that best represented what I wanted to prove to the judges was NEKISSE: among all the coffees that I’ve tried, it’s the only one which showed a good balance in the cup, with a controlled acidity and an intense sweetness, not to mention its richness and gustative complexity. This choice came after a very hard work, especially because balance in the cup are the hardest characteristics to keep under control during a tasting which is divided into 3 sips and lasts 60 seconds, because often a decrease of temperature implies an intensification of acidity and bitterness. Try it to believe it!

All my competition for WBC 2013 has been studied and structured on this concept, with the purpose of improving the service of the espresso in any bar’s everyday life. In fact, different temperatures have been used also for cappuccinos and signature drinks: in this last one I tried to remark the aromatic and gustative sensations by intensifying its taste.

After a very long and hard work and a pause, I can proudly tell that I’ve reached a great result which for me goes well beyond the final standings, and often I almost feel like I’ve reached the highest place in the podium, as if I was the world champion! I ask my friend Pete Licata to excuse me for this and I want to truly congratulate him and tell him that I’m really proud that our category is represented by a champion like him. As regard as me, I gave my best, I paid attention to the very minimum details of my competition, so whoever asks me what I’d change if I went back in time, I answer with honesty: œAbsolutely NOTHING! .

Finally I managed to bring my beloved country very high in the world ranking and I hope I’ve managed to pass on positive messages to the whole Italian coffee sector. Particularly, to the companies   of the sector: I’ve tried to prove them, through my study, my research and my performance (for those who’d like to see it again, click here) that the moment to turn page and to give new life to œMade in Italy coffee has arrived. Because only this way we can go back to express our opinion internationally, by giving importance and energy to the history of the coffee built years ago by our ancestors.

Nevertheless, my intent was also, and above all, to prove to young baristas that reaching a world final isn’t that impossible, you just have to believe in it until the end and work hard with passion, love and spirit of sacrifice: the next world championship will be held in Italy, and for this reason I wish the next Italian Barista Champion to bring Italy to the final again, hopefully doing even better than what I’ve done this year, because a further step forward will be useful for all baristas of the whole Italian sector of coffee, so that people will keep recognizing the quality of a product which is sold so much all around the world.

Well, I guess you understood that I’ve decided NOT TO PARTICIPATE to the next Italian Barista Championship… and I’ll be happy to be available for anyone who’ll want a debate, an opinion, an advice or simply moral support!


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