Before discovering the roasting process, and with it the possibility of making a drink, coffee seeds were used together with animal fat in a sort of energy bar ante litteram to be taken during on long journeys such as when merchants crossed the desert. It were also used by monks and priests to stay awake during long prayer vigils.
Bean roasting spread rapidly first across the Arab countries, reaching Turkey from where it quickly arrived in Europe, particularly in the cities of Venice, Vienna and London. Within a few centuries, the coffee-based drink had conquered the entire continent.
Coffee roasting in Italy spread differently across the land and in particular in Tuscany. Roasting was originally a local activity but soon grew into small, medium and industrial-scale enterprises operating on an international level. Until around twenty years ago there were more than 1,200 roasters scattered throughout Italy, but this number has reduced considerably of late and also includes local micro-roasteries where the coffee is roasted with small machines in small quantities and sold directly to the public. Almost a return to the way things used to be.
The roasting world is rapidly evolving, helped by the arrival of entities like the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA), which held its first public event in Montecarlo in 2000. Over the course of twenty years, the SCA has worked to make coffee better by raising standards worldwide through a collaborative and progressive approach.
Within the rapidly developing speciality world, a specialty barista is a sort of coffee sommelier, an expert in the extraction of drinks using different methods who offers single-origin coffees, from specific plantations using only high-quality blends to provide a fresh roast without any sensorial defects in the cup.
Over time, these specialty baristas have become increasingly demanding of the quality of the roasted coffee they serve their customers and when they couldn’t find what they were looking for in the traditional coffee market, started to roast the coffee themselves, leading to the rise of a growing number of micro-roasters across Europe who produce and sell fresh, quality coffee, just like their local predecessors.