Andrea Morettino, Fourth Generation Coffee Producer and Sales Manager of family roasting business Morettino, talks to Global Coffee Report about growing Italy’s first coffee and its implications for the future.
While Italy is known for its strong love of coffee, it has never been associated as a producing nation. This, however, could all change with Italian coffee roaster Morettino harvesting its first batch of Sicilian grown coffee in September 2021.
“Our small experimental coffee plantation began in the 1990s when the Botanical Gardens – which is the research facility for the University of Palermo – gifted 60 Arabica plants of the Bourbon and Catuai variety to my father, Arturo Morettino,” says Andrea Morettino, fourth generation coffee producer and Sales and Marketing Manager of Morettino.
These were planted 350 metres above sea level, in the village of San Lorenzo ai Colli in Palermo.
“Over the next 30 years, through the patience, dedication, and love shown by my family, we grew these plants, gathering the drupes they produced and reseeding it into new coffee plants,” says Morettino.
Over three decades, these plants acclimatised to temperatures outside the typical tropical conditions they were used to. This combined with a change in climate and increasing temperatures saw the Morettino family harvest their first specialty coffee yield.
“We used our Gold Honey method of coffee processing, which saw the coffee undergo a 48-hour fermentation process,” says Morettino. “There were strong flavours of Sicilian native fruits such as the Zibibbo grapes, white plumeria flowers, and panela sugar, producing a refined coffee with natural sweetness.”
While the potential to grow coffee in Italy is a monumental discovery, Morettino predicts it will be at least a decade before any coffee will be commercially produced.
“It takes time to breed these coffee plants, and to create a cup of coffee with a consistently defined cup profile,” says Morettino. “Already we are starting a project in collaboration with the University of Palermo and the Botanical Garden as part of our short-term vision.”
This project will see the coffee plants grown in different regions across Sicily, with varying soil types and terroir.
“To analyse these results, it requires the collaboration of all of us across the supply chain. We will provide the Botanical Gardens with the seeds we produce, which will then be analysed,” Morettino says. “We are proud to be able to return the gift that the Botanical Gardens once gave us.”
Coffee is not the only agriculture plant benefitting from the changing temperature.
“We’ve been experiencing a ‘double bloom’ in recent years. This is a hot summer, followed by a short rainy season, which returns to a hot season. This means tropical fruits such as mango, papaya, avocado, kiwi or Sicilian litchi are flowering, and producing fruit twice a year,” says Morettino.
In recognition of the changing agriculture seasons, The University of Palermo has recently launched its new Masters degree in Mediterranean Food Science and Technology. Its opening was held at the Caffè Morettino Museum, both Morettino’s roastery and museum of coffee that intertwines with his own family history.
The course will study the technical and functional characteristics of machinery and agriculture crops with a focus on preserving the quality of Mediterranean grown products and increasing their shelf-life. Laws related to food management and international trade, along with defining traceability, safeguarding resources, and enhancing supply chains will also be covered.
“We are working together to share our knowledge of the coffee chain. Through our Morettino Coffee Program will also support the Masters programto provide a greater depth of understanding about coffee,” says Morettino.
“It is much bigger than a coffee plant. So many young people are leaving Siciliy for work and better prospects in the city, but the ability to recultivate the land and grow new plants which are suited to this different climate could reinvigorate the region.
“There is so much potential to be more than a wine or olive country. This coffee plant could even drive tourism. It’s an investment into creating hope and opportunity, right here in Italy.”
This article was first published in the January/February 2022 edition of Global Coffee Report. Read more HERE.