Today we are discussing coffee, the most popular drink in the world after water and one of the most marketed and traded raw materials after oil. We are talking of an adult product, listed on the New York and London stock exchanges and part of the everyday lives of us all.
The Italian coffee, however, despite being a benchmark market with over 800 coffee roasters, is not the first for consumption, nor does it not stand out for any particular coffee culture or tasting education.
For years, the Italian espresso has been one of the symbols of the Made in Italy production, a way to export the Italian culture abroad. Satisfied with its undisputed market leadership, backed by a heritage which is a guarantee in itself, Italy has not really felt the need to innovate, which became urgent instead for the international market in the early 2000s, when first in the United States, then in Australia, coffee enthusiasts gave life to a movement focusing on product quality as opposed to the mass market of international corporations.
It was in 2009 that sisters Mary, Angelita, Anna and Daniela Mauro, leveraging their long-running family tradition and deep knowledge of the coffee market, decided to make use of the cultural and relational capital coming from their family-run business to create something new in a world that they knew way too well.
The Mauro family started out in 1949 thanks to the brilliant intuition, courage and vision of their forefather Demetrio, who was the first to find a name and brand for the anonymous bulk coffee that they had marketed until then, and to sell it in bags. That was the beginning of a successful business story.
After this experience in their family’s business, which they are proudly attached to, the Mauro sisters felt the need to drive innovation in an extremely traditional market like the Italian one.
We had fun implementing everything that we had not been able to in a traditional multi-channel company
says Mary Mauro, CEO of Sevengrams.
We wanted to speak one only language that both individuals and professionals could understand, centering our business storytelling on coffee as food in order to restore its dignity as a product
But why calling your firm “Sevengrams”?
When I was the sales director of our family business, Mary says, I found it misleading to discuss the coffee price per kilogram. Our traditional approach back then would not allow me to do otherwise, but I was fully aware that we should have not have sold coffee kilograms, yet the multi-sensory experience that a cup of coffee can give.
Seven grams of premium ground coffee, properly roasted and brewed at best, are all it takes to taste one of the pleasures of life: the Italian espresso!
When the time came to pick our company’s name, Sevengrams thus sounded perfect for a number of reasons: 7 is a magic number with a strong symbolic value, understandable in all languages in the world; it prompts consumers to ask about it, and the answer to it informs them; it strongly characterizes coffee, and it is a promise of quality that involves not just the raw material in itself, but also the customer service and skills that help to taste this quality in a cup.
Our pay-off, “For espresso lovers only “, identifies our target. Our ideal customers are coffee lovers, those who go beyond the mere ritual. For “espresso lovers”, this drink represents a desire, not a need; it is a real multi-sensory experience to be lived with consciousness, curiosity and eagerness to experiment and learn more.
For what concerns our business choice, we have decided to adopt a procedure-based model: this way, our system can be implemented everywhere.
We select and purchase raw coffee, then blend it at a trusted supplier’s facilities; we have launched a partnership with two suppliers that process green coffee based on our directions, following our roasting and extraction standards.
We carry out fast and frequent checks on our supply chain in order to closely monitor the whole process and benefit from variable industrial production costs.
We rely on a cutting-edge business model: it uses the production capacity that our partners are not leveraging, and thus ensures that logistics is sustainable.
We have made a decision based on quality, responsibility and freedom: for the single-serve segment, we have opted for paper pods, similar to those used by bartenders on professional coffee makers. This way, coffee is uniformly permeated with water, which makes it possible to extract the whole pod content and prevent some of it from not being used, as it frequently happens with capsules.
Moreover, since pods are an open system, there are not any equipment requirements: on the same coffee maker, consumers are free to use coffee from any roaster using this standard. We believe in an ethical trading model, and we are convinced that the best way to win the consumers’ loyalty is to always offer the best products possible. For what concerns B2B customers, like coffee shops and restaurants, we are aiming for a distinctive concept: we give them full freedom as to the equipment, but we also offer them all-around support for training, positioning, knowledge and awareness – in one word, credibility.
What do you mean by supporting their credibility?
I will make an example to explain this better: we offer bars a customized consulting service that goes beyond simply supplying products. Our collaborators are instructors, technicians and fully-fledged professionals. With their support, we can help our customers to identify a strategic positioning; only after that, together with them, we build an offering including distinctive coffees, based on their knowledge and awareness of the products they will be using.
This is what we consider as being reliable and credible, a concept that defines our way of doing business. Credibility allows us to positively influence the market.
For years, a bunch of adjectives has been associated with coffee – intense, creamy, tasty, all empty words. The experience of coffee is personal, but coffee as a food has objective properties that even the less attentive consumers can notice. We want to tell what is behind and inside a cup of coffee.
We should discuss flavors, the land and productions processes, evoke these worlds, talk about a quality supply chain that starts from far away. We can no longer merely be content with selling a tradition, we now have to promote the knowledge and history of coffee as a food. Only few types food can flaunt such a wonderful, rich storytelling as coffee!
What are Sevengrams and the Mauro sisters’ future projects?
We surely want to keep growing, while never becoming big. We wish to retain our tailored-on approach to customers, and to offer a service that meets their highest expectations. We want to focus on what we love and know how to do. We want to do what we believe in, and be satisfied with it.
We feel responsible for our grandfather Demetrio’s legacy and values, but we also want to keep having fun. Our future holds the project of establishing shared spaces, training spaces, coffee studios open to the public to pass on our knowledge of coffee and expertise. For this reason, since 2012, we have been collaborating with Chiara Bergonzi, who has also become Sevengrams’s partner, a prominent expert of specialty coffee, a certified SCA professional, a Latte Art specialist and an international judge at the WCE contest (World Coffee Events).
Since 201, we have been active and recognized members of the SCA community, i.e. the Specialty Coffee Association, the most influential international association promoting specialty coffees and training best practices. All our coffee brewing courses allow learners to obtain the SCA’s Coffee Skills Program certifications, a training program that is recognized worldwide and sets the international standard for professional bartending skills.
Knowledge, expertise, credibility, training – all words that keep coming up in our conversation…
For years, I have heard about secret recipes, about blend choices being the key to the players’ success. There is no secret recipe! Expertise is the critical factor. If I promise a certain organoleptic standard, I encourage my customers’ loyalty, but in order obtain this, I need to be able to work on the blend, maybe buy an alternative if the available products do not reach the required quality, and I need to know how to change the roasting settings consequently; I need to have a deep knowledge of coffee to keep my promise.
How many coffee lovers can actually understand and appreciate the difference?
From my privileged point of view, what I can say is that right now, foreign countries have a better coffee culture than Italy. To give you an idea of the gap that separates Italy from other countries, it was only in 2019 that an Italian gained the highest step of the podium in the world Latte Art contest for the first time.
At Sevengrams, we have become a destination in this regard. Our Coffee Studio in Milan is visited daily by customers coming from all around the world to taste our specialty coffees or see how our format works. The same happens in London, where we opened two new Coffee Studios in 2017.
The market is extremely developed in London. I am proud to say that in 2019, our shops were featured in the London Coffee Guide, a guidebook listing the 150 best independent coffee shops in London, edited by Allegra Strategies, a leading company in researching and studying the coffee industry in the United Kingdom and in Europe.
In such a busy, competitive market as the London one, counting over 2,000 coffee shop chains and over 400 independent shops, this result is even more representative of our product quality, combined with the credibility that an outstanding, recognizable positioning ensures.
What is a specialty coffee?
Specialty coffees are the result of a premium-quality controlled supply chain going from agronomists to professional bartenders. A specialty coffee is by definition the product of a continuous, relentless search of excellence. While not much information is available on the origin, varietals and production processes of commercial coffees, which are sold in huge quantities, specialty coffees are fully traceable, produced in small batches and qualitatively superior on an organoleptic level.
They are the outcome of studies and research, and their premium qualities are certified by professional tasters who grade them in percentages on an excellence scale from 0 to 100.
Scoring more than 80% identifies a specialty product. The definition of specialty coffee, however, is not just about the raw material: green coffee needs to be processed by skilled hands, following an artisan roasting process – whereas commercial coffee is made in industrial plants – that respects the coffee sensory properties and enhances its flavors and tasting notes.
Last, it all gets into the hands of bartenders, the last link of the value chain, who need to be able to properly extract one serving and elevate all the previous work in a drink that can surprise for its sweetness and complex aromas.
My dream is for specialty coffees to evolve from being niche products to becoming a quality standard. We can only achieve this by steering the market towards excellence. We want to be the cultural agents raising awareness of the world of coffee.
This is the reason why we are investing so much in training: we want to shape all-round professionals who can become part of the coffee value chain, and we promote the coffee culture to the press with events and workshops to spread knowledge about our world.
Italy is home to food and wine excellences of every kind, and the country perfectly knows how to enhance every one of them, except for coffee. Have you ever read the menu of a starred restaurant in detail?
There are pages and pages of ingredient descriptions telling the study and research beyond the preparation and selection of dishes, not to mention the wine list to go with them. Yet not a word on coffee, which is always offered in a conventional, even dusty way, while it should actually top off the perfect lunch or dinner.
We are working to overturn this prejudice. We have learned firsthand that knowing and appreciating coffee is an irreversible, one-way process. Just like for wine, oil or any other agricultural products, when you savor the best that the earth and human work can offer, there is no going back.