Behind the Beans

You’ve probably seen the Caffé D’arte brand at the Market, but do you know the art form behind the blends? Learn about the company responsible for your delicious cup of joe.

It’s 2 p.m. on a Thursday in mid-September, and the weather is unseasonably warm and humid for the Pacific Northwest. Supply chains are still struggling to get coffee beans and various packaging items from around the world into the manufacturing plant. And a master roaster named Manuel Gonzalez is working the small-batch machines.

What do all these seemingly small details have to do with the taste of a cup of coffee from Caffé D’arte?

Everything, according to Joe Mancuso, the general manager.

 

 

As we tour the facility, Mancuso asks Gonzalez how long the beans that are roasting have left before they are poured into the cooling drum. Gonzalez is monitoring the beans, and he knows the exact second this particular batch will be ready for the next step.

The process is far from what you might expect for a successful coffee company in 2022—it’s all done by hand, sight and smell.

“What you see are all traditional Italian techniques for buying, roasting and blending,” he says. “It’s old-school and not efficient—it’s very labor intensive, but it makes all the difference.”

He further explains that Caffé D’arte could easily automate the process. There are some highly sophisticated digital roasters on the market. But using them goes against the company’s ethos. Mancuso says computer profiles can’t evaluate all the variables necessary—the air temperature outside, which batch of the day, the age of the coffee beans, the conditions of the growing season in the regions where they came from, et cetera. 

His roasters, like Gonzalez, all have at least two decades of experience using their senses and training to take all these things into account and perfectly roast each batch.

“Coffee is a product of nature; as nature changes, so does coffee,” he says. “Our recipes change frequently. It’s a slight change, but we are constantly monitoring for all those variables.”

This seems like an especially large challenge for a company currently experiencing growth, but they refuse to compromise. Mancuso walks us to a huge yellow roasting machine. It’s brand-new—shiny and bright and looks more like what you’d expect from a modern company.

“This is our newest super roaster; we could have had it all automated, but we didn’t,” he says. “It’s just not how we do things. We still have complete control of the burner and air flow; it’s really exciting.”

The last roaster we walk by is in stark contrast. It’s old and finicky. You have to manually light a piece of paper and then the alderwood that goes inside the furnace. It was made in 1949 in Naples, Italy. And while it’s still in operation today, it’s also mostly a nod to the beginnings of the family-owned company.

“It’s a special, special machine,” Mancuso says.

Mauro Cipolla started Caffé D’arte in Seattle in 1985, after studying the art of roasting coffee in Naples for years. He realized there was a need for a more traditional methodology for crafting espresso. Mancuso started working with the family at 15 years old and has maintained the values and art form ever since.

“It’s a really fun time in the history of the company: the brand is strong, and I’m proud of how we run things,” he says.

 

DOLCE FINE

A shooter, that should be taken slow but all at once.

Ingredients

  • raw sugar
  • 1/3 vanilla syrup (or baileys or vanilla vodka)
  • 1/3 espresso
  • 1/3 heavy cream

Preparation

  1. Rim a tall shot glass with raw sugar.
  2. Fill with one-third of each liquid, starting with the vanilla.
  3. Enjoy!

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