Barista Magazine

DEC 2018 - JAN 2019

Serving People Serving Coffee Since 2005

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F O A M : N E W S + T R E N D S BALANCING TRADITION AND MODERNITY, MR. ESPRESSO CELEBRATES 40 YEARS BY THE 1970s, Carlo Di Ruocco had already made a name for himself in the espresso-equipment business in the San Francisco Bay Area—though the early forecast for his United States career path didn't hint at it. The Salerno, Italy, native had arrived in California earlier in the decade while working for Otis Elevators. Missing the espresso culture of his homeland, he began a side job importing espresso machines from Italy and selling them to Italian restaurateurs and cafés across the Bay Area. Soon his importing business became a full-time job, and he played a key role in cultivating the area's early appre- ciation for espresso culture. Eventually Carlo decided to evolve the business: Hav- ing earned local respect selling the equipment he loved, he now wanted to come up with the espresso itself. He began experimenting with roasting coffee in his Alameda home. He had an easy time choosing a name for the expanded business: Mr. Espresso, the moniker his colleagues were already calling him. Fast forward to present day, and Mr. Espresso is now celebrating its milestone 40th anniversary as a roaster and provider of espresso equipment, service, and training to coffeehouses and restaurants in the Bay Area and beyond. While the company was established in the tradition of Carlo's Italian roots—and still roasts via its signature oak-wood-roasting method—it has embraced modern trends such as direct, relationship-based sourcing. Helping to maintain this balance of Old World and contemporary are Carlo's sons, who lead the business now: Luigi Di Ruocco serves as vice president of sales and director of marketing, while John Di Ruocco is the company's green-coffee buyer and quality-control supervisor. "The ability of the company to stick to its founding values and core principles while adapting to evolving industry circumstances over time has been the vital factor in remaining viable and successful for 40 years," says Luigi. Perhaps Carlo didn't know he would start a coffee-focused business with such staying power, but he did know early on that he loved coffee. Growing up in Salerno in Italy's southern region, he discovered the drink at a young age. "My fi rst job as a boy was factotum with a small roaster in Italy," he says. "I helped the owner with wood roasting and blending coffees, and occasionally with tasting new blends. That's when I fell in love with coffee." Years later when he decided to try his hand at commercial roasting, Carlo had no doubt he wanted to use the roasting method he remem- bered from his youth, employing oak wood rather than the more common method of gas. He says he was drawn to "the feeling that you experience with a craft, doing something by hand, knowing it's unique and done with care. It allowed me to put my passion into producing authentic, Italian espresso." So it came as no surprise that when Carlo began roasting, he ordered a custom-built, Italian-made, wood-fueled machine. As business grew and demand for more coffee required high- er-capacity equipment, Carlo remained loyal to the tradition of wood roasting, opting for a larger version of the original machine. Mr. Espresso has sustained for four decades not just because of its unique roaster, but also thanks to the high-quality product that the roaster helps create. The product begins with the green coffee John sources, which ranges from specialty-coffee quality to exqui- site. John notes that because many of Mr. Espresso's customers use blends in a restaurant or foodservice setting, he sources coffees that work well for that purpose, selecting higher-scoring coffees than are typically used in blends. "Most of the coffees we use in blending are in the 84–86-point range, occasionally introducing a higher-scoring coffee to add a little sparkle," John says. "With that we can produce a consistently terrifi c-tasting coffee at a price point that makes sense for our customers." However, Mr. Espresso also offers the occasion- al super-high-end coffee: A recent example of this was an Ethiopia Works Natural coffee, which won a Good Food Award in 2017. "When it comes to single-origin coffees, we take the gloves off a bit and target coffees in the 88-and-above point range," John says. He adds that while quality has always been a core principle of Mr. Espresso, the meaning of that word has evolved over the years. John explains that as the company has matured, he and his father and brother have prioritized direct relationships in their effort to achieve quality coffee, while also positively impacting coffee-producing communities. "Being able to connect face-to-face, listen to stories, and share concerns takes our relationships to new levels," John says. "It has allowed us to engage in meaningful projects that enable producers to achieve more effi ciency, greater quality, and sustainability goals." Carlo says he's proud of the business he created, and humbled by the recognition he has received. This acknowledgment includes being honored with the Specialty Coffee Association's Alfred Peet Passion- ate Cup award in 2015, an award named after his good friend in the Bay Area. "It was a great honor to receive the award, and it was not expected at all," Carlo says. "This surprise was particularly special because of my long relationship with Alfred Peet, built on a mutual re- spect that I can't forget. I will always have respect for his knowledge and for the genuine person he was." As Mr. Espresso enters its fi fth decade, the company plans to maintain its successful formula of drawing on tradition while staying connected to the changing world of coffee. "In the end, we work hard every year to refi ne the traditions we've inherited to help them main- tain relevance in today's marketplace, lest they be forgotten, while keeping an eye out for the trends," says Luigi. "At the intersection of traditional and modern is exactly where we want and need to be." —Chris Ryan Mr. Espresso is rooted in tradition but has evolved with the specialty-coff ee industry. The company still relies on the oak-wood-roasting traditions imparted by founder Carlo Di Ruocco (shown with Mr. Espresso's roaster in 1985). 24 barista magazine

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