Italy is the cradle of so much history and culture that it sometimes feels like modern-day Italians were all born with a massive trust fund that they’re not even really aware of. I guess if you grew up in a historic medieval town, eating delicious nonna cooked food every day and speaking a language that is a direct descendant of Latin, it might just seem totally normal to you. As a foreigner, every time I am in Italy, I am fascinated by the blend of old and new, by the beautiful way that Italians talk using their hands and by the diversity of Italy’s cultural heritage.
If you leave historic buildings, paintings and other things aside, there is another thing that Italy has a rich history with. Coffee. And yet, if you’re into specialty coffee, you might wrinkle your nose at Italian coffee. Truth be told, I’ve had some horrific experiences drinking caffé in Italian espresso bars. Dirty portafilters, completely unchecked coffee to water ratios, sour and stale espressos. The list goes on. Despite the country’s culinary wealth, specialty coffee was slow to take off. Does anyone still remember the massive uproar that was caused by someone complaining about the price of an espresso at Ditta Artigianale last year? That was something.
Dario Fociani, the founder of Faro specialty coffee in Rome was one of the country’s early pioneers when it comes to bringing third wave coffee culture to Italy’s capital. Like so many other Europeans, Dario had his coffee awakening during a visit to Melbourne where he realised that Italian coffee culture was really just one very specific aspect of coffee and that there was so much more to it. His eyelids fluttered open and he saw the light!
After returning to Europe and moving to London, Dario began his coffee training in earnest. His experience as a waiter and a barman gave him a good basic set of skills but working with specialty coffee was a whole different ball game. He then spent some time living and working for The Barn in Berlin before relocating to Rome where he eventually opened Faro together with Arturo Felicetta and Dafne Spadavecchia.
Faro, or lighthouse, was one of if not the first specialty coffee bar in Rome that served coffees from different roasters around Europe and worked hard towards offering education and access to highly sceptical Italian coffee drinkers. Luckily, Rome has its hefty share of tourism that provides a solid flow of custom for places like Faro. This has definitely also helped others like Orso Nero and the aforementioned Ditta to get off the ground.
In the years since opening Faro in 2016, Dario and co built a solid reputation for their business and this success encouraged them to set up their own roastery, Aliena, in 2021. A few months ago, Dario and I began talking about the possibilities of a partnership and I got quite excited by the idea of working with Aliena. Everyone I spoke with who had tried their coffees was full of praise and the packaging is really something to behold.
Aliena, as the name suggests is inspired by space, extraterrestrials and the unknown. In a way, it’s a fun synonym for the Italian discovery of specialty coffee, though let’s be real here, it’s not just Italians who are still discovering this wonderful beverage. I really like Aliena’s elegant and tongue-in-cheek packaging, and the coffees inside are absolutely stunning.
When we first cupped some of Aliena’s coffees back in June with the aim to feature them in our July box, everyone at the public cupping event in Warsaw was delighted and surprised because not many people are aware of Aliena outside of Italy. Though we ended up picking one of Aliena’s coffees for the June box, the packaging wasn’t ready and we had to postpone their debut feature by one month.
The coffee that we fell in love with is from Rwanda. This washed Red Bourbon from producer Musasa Ruli is an exceptional example of the finest coffees that are produced in this small East African country. Rwanda is seen by many as one of the most stable and forward looking African nations though it has been ruled by the same former rebel leader turned President, Paul Kagame, since 2000. Rwanda’s bloody history is still fresh on many peoples’ minds and it will take a long time for the wounds to heal.
Having said that, specialty coffee is one of the country’s most important exports, offering thousands of people a way out of poverty. Musasa Dukunde Kawa cooperative runs four wet mills in the rugged northwest of the country with Ruli being their original first washing station. Located at 1.999 meters above sea level, it is one of Rwanda’s highest washing stations and known for producing crisp, juicy and delicious coffees like this one.
Expect notes of blackberry, rose and blueberry.
Receive this coffee along with two other picks from KUDU and PIHA as part of our upcoming August 2023 European coffee roasters box. Order your subscription, one-off box or gift box now. Ships on 20.08.2023.