Italy’s coffee culture could be overdue for a shake up

Happy 2019 everyone! I wanted to mention an article that’s been going around online from the Washington Post: Italy invented coffee culture. Now it’s a coffee time capsule.

The gist of the article is that while Italy was pioneer in coffee and espresso, in recent years many cafes haven’t kept up with the times. They’ve cut corners with the quality of their beans in order to keep prices from rising with inflation and other costs. Despite Italy’s ingrained coffee culture, the “third-wave” coffee trend is slowly coming to the country with higher quality espresso (and higher prices to match.)

Personally I’d say it’s far too early to say if Italy will accept this change, but I bet tourists from big cities outside of Italy will welcome high end espresso even if the locals are uninterested.

Similar changes happen all the time on a much smaller scale. For example someone might work for years on coming up with the best tacos and open a new taco restaurant with customers lining up out the door on day one. Customers rave about it and with stellar reviews, the place claims to have the best tacos in town. Then ten years go by and nothing changes — they’re still making the same tacos they were ten years ago. Now a new taco place opens down the street with an amazing new recipe, better ingredients, and a more up-to-date interior. Customers flock to the new place and the former “best” taco restaurant sees their customer base dwindle. Why? It’s not because the old place changed, it’s because it failed to keep up with the times. They could have tried new specials, updated their ingredients, etc. but instead of embracing change they rested on their reputation.

In the business world there’s a name for this: The Innovator’s Dilemma, which comes from the title of a book. It’s often talked about in the technology industry (think Yahoo vs. Google Search) but the core concept applies to any business; it’s cheaper to adapt to your customer’s ever-changing needs than to continue doing the same thing and eventually get surpassed by a rival.

I brought up tacos only because food trends tend to move pretty fast, and we’ve all seen restaurants stagnate and go out of business. The world of espresso is no different: the best cafes in the world are subject to the same market pressures. What’s interesting about this article though is the latest trends in espresso seem to have skipped an entire country, not just a single establishment.

Time and money permitting I’d love to revisit Italy in a few years and give their cafes another shot.

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