Torrefazione Girani: the oldest coffee roaster in Venice
I don't know about you, but the first thing I do every morning is grind some coffee beans, prepare my moka machine and wait for the wonderful aroma of coffee to fill the kitchen. Coffee is one of the most consumed beverages around the world, yet I realized that I knew very little about it and wanted to learn more.
As some of you may know, coffee comes from Ethiopia and only centuries after its diffusion in northern Africa, Turkey and the East, it arrived in Europe. Venice played a key role in its diffusion, due to the fact that it was one of the most important commercial centers and to the opening and popularity of coffee houses. The world of coffee is incredible, there is so much behind our daily cups of joy that I hope soon more and more people will start appreciating it and tasting it in the same way we do with wine, trying to understand the different flavors and terroirs.
Anyhow, this post is not about the history of coffee (but if you are interested, I recommend listening to this brilliant podcast: https://open.spotify.com/show/4Sb6QctY0PUqGnVkEz5M0R?si=e814b40b49de467a), but it's about the oldest Venetian coffee roaster still open today: Caffè Girani, located in the quiet Campo della Bragora in Castello. Once upon a time, there were many roasters in the lagoon but unfortunately, like many other mestieri, this too is a profession that is slowly disappearing and endangered by bigger industries.
Caffè Girani was started in 1928 by Giuseppe Girani and was located in San Stae. The business started after Giuseppe had spent some time in Trieste where, together with Francesco Illy (founder of Caffè Illy), he would go to the coffee bar Caffè Venier, where he met his wife Maria, and learned more about this beverage. The old roaster in San Stae was a typical Venetian casa-bottega, with the shop (bottega) on the ground floor and the house (casa) on the first floor. Giuseppe was also extremely passionate about soccer, in fact he first played and then trained the Venezia team, bringing it into the premier league in the 1940s. Because he needed a lot of time to be able to play soccer, Giuseppe was looking for a profession that was not too time-consuming and coffee roasting turned out to be the perfect choice.
Unfortunately he passed away at only 52 years of age, but his daughter Gigliola continued to carry on the family business with care and dedication, as she was very attached to her father and saw the torrefazione as a way to honor him. Gigliola was the only woman roaster in Venice and was one of the founding members of the Gruppo Torrefattori Veneti (Venetian Roasters Group), in addition to having obtained various certifications, she continued to source beans of excellent qualities and to create incredibly well balanced blends. The location of the roaster (had to) change in 2011and in that moment Gigliola also started retail sale. She was active until a couple of years ago, when she too left this world. Today, the small family business is in the hands of Giuseppe's grand-daughters Roberta and Laura, who put the same passion into what they do and preserve the Venetianess of the coffee.
I met Roberta and their expert roaster Emanuele, who has been involved in the business since forever! They are both two lovely people to talk to, not much into technology and online trading, but more focused on building human connections and preserving quality. Roberta told me that in Venice coffee has been present since the 1500s and that the Turkish would consume their drink inside their fondaco (the warehouse, now the Natural History Museum close to Campo San Giacomo). A Venetian ambassador in Istanbul had observed how much men enjoyed spending their time at the cavedane (sorts of coffee houses), places of sociality, politics, trading and a lot more, and suggested to the Doge they could be a good business for Venice too. Street vendors, in fact, had started selling coffee and it was common to sell trays with coffee and chocolate that men would buy for their ladies. Eventually, lots of Botteghe del Caffè opened and made it even easier to spread the love for this ritual. Coffee was considered a spice and soon its therapeutic properties were identified. In Venice people drank mainly caffè India and only from the late 1800s espresso became popular. In Italy we tend to consume blends, although today people are rediscovering single-origin coffees. Blends became popular because the more sophisticated Arabica has always been more expensive, while the more affordable Robusta quality has the virtue of helping create a nice cream (an obsession for most Italians) and of adding body to the coffee.
Tasting single origin coffees is important to understand the specific qualities of each, but creating good and well-balanced blends is an art and in order to be done with mastery, the roaster really needs to know his beans! At Caffè Girani they created and still offer 7 types of blends:
Casanova: 100% Arabica, with a sweet fruity flavor and an intense aroma born from the mixture of beans grown in Puerto Rico and Ethiopia, where the coffee gets processed, picked and sorted by hand.
Fassina: 100% Arabica, a blend of 9 kind of superior quality coffees from Central America (Columbia, Costa Rica and Guatemala), with a mild taste and less caffeine. Dedicated to a friend of Giuseppe Girani.
Rosina: 70% Arabica, 30% Robusta, characterized by an aromatic taste and a full and round aftertaste composed of the finest Arabic quality coffee beans from Central America. Blend named after the client it was created for!
Arzenton: 90% Arabica, 10& Robusta, blend that balances the typical Italian-style coffee with a more fruity and sweet aftertaste
Todaro: 90% Arabica, 10% Robusta sweet and fruity
Moka: 60% Arabica, 40% Robusta, with more caffeine, perfect for the morning, strong and energetic.
Deca: 100% Arabica, with a zesty aroma and chocolate flavor. Decaffeinated naturally by water process that guarantees the preservation of organoleptic properties, then roasted by them to extract its flavor.
In addition to the blends, you can also find a very good selection of single origin coffees. The beans, all certified, are bought green mainly from Trieste and come from various parts of the world. They are carefully selected for their quality, rigorously hand-picked and grown in farms where they do not use chemicals. In fact, you won't find beans from Vietnam, second largest producer of coffee in the world after Brazil, because the environment is too polluted and does not respond to their selection criteria!
The beans are then roasted separately in their Vittoria roaster machine, which they nick-named La Rossa (The Red), manufactured in 1945 and restored in 2011. The temperature never exceeds 200 degrees, so to enhance the aroma of each variety of bean. As for the cooling process, it is done on a tray that locks the organoleptic properties and arrests the roasting process. In fact, because of the typical Venetian humidity, they prefer a medium roast, often on the lighter side. The beans are then left resting inside the silos for at least a week.
Roberta takes the quality of their coffee and their blends very seriously, so much that a chemist in Caselle (in the province of Padua) had one of their blends analyzed and it was so pure they created a moisturizing oil for the skin!
Personally, I think that buying coffee from your local roaster is a small yet big gesture that helps reduce waste and will enable you to drink better coffee, support a more sustainable economy and learn so much!
The next time you are in Venice, consider stopping by this small roaster and purchasing a truly Venetian gift for your friends and family at home, as well as for yourself! I don't know which variety to recommend, after all it is a matter of personal taste. What I can say is that Vittorio and I are particularly fond of their Ethiopia Sidamo coffee and of the Casanova blend.
Phone: +39 041 721500
Opening Times: Monday to Friday 8:30 am - 12:30 pm