The last ten years has seen something of a coffee revolution in Florence with new wave hangouts like Ditta Artigianale adding variety to the traditional espresso al bar. Phoebe Hunt casts aside her personal doubts and spends a morning “cupping” coffee at Ditta’s new Scuola del Caffè set inside the piazza Sant’Ambrogio coffee shop.
Every city needs its chain of reassuringly generic American coffee shops. The kind of place where you can tuck into a wedge of red velvet cake at 10am without being judged and nurse a long black americano while studying or working for a few hours in comfortable anonymity. In Florence, where Costa or Starbucks has not yet succeeded in setting up shop anywhere near the city centre, the closest we’ve got to a US-style coffee house is the likes of Ditta Artigianale.
The thing is, despite all their appearances of being an international brand—trendy t-shirts and merchandise; inspirational quotes in neon; staff who speak to you in English—the Ditta team actually care a lot about the quality of their coffee. Founder Francesco Sanapo usually spends several months a year travelling to plantations, meeting producers in order to have a direct relationship and to gain better traceability for each coffee bean. “Having such a high-quality product, our goal is to make the customer understand and appreciate everything that’s behind each bean. The best way is to communicate who we are, our philosophy and the way we care about our product,” Sanapo explains.
So I learned one Saturday morning, when I was invited to take part in a coffee tasting workshop with Simone Amenini, director of the Scuola. Simone was the head barista at Ditta Artigianale for five years, which, he says, “gave me the opportunity to improve my coffee knowledge and to increase my passion in this wonderful world. Communicating to customers why Ditta is special soon became my main goal. Working every day at the counter, brewing some of the best coffees I’d ever had, led me to share this joy with customers and colleagues.”
It was probably because of this enthusiasm, Simone muses, that Francesco decided to give him the role of managing the coffee school when it was launched in 2021. “Scuola del Caffè was born to act as a new reference point in the quality coffee scene in Florence,” Simone explains. “Our philosophy is shaped by many years of experience running Ditta and trying to help people understand and love coffee in an innovative way.”
The school offers a training course on several levels, embracing professional training, in-depth study for coffee lovers and multi-sensory experiences for organized groups. For caffeine enthusiasts who just want a fun morning honing their palate and learning more about the beans, there are simple coffee tastings for 25 euro and various activities around the theme of “An Introduction to the World of Coffee.” Meanwhile, budding professionals can enter the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA) course line through the school: three modules, which result in a coffee diploma at the end. Finally, there are also tailor-made training programmes in all aspects of being a barista, built based on individual needs and wishes.
The class I took part in was very much of the amateur type, introducing us novices to the art of tasting coffee like a pro. Simone guided us through the myriad tasting notes you get in coffee and, crucially, explained to us how to pick them out. We started with a blind tasting of six beans of hugely different quality: standard robusta and single origin, hand-selected arabica, and everything in between.
We were given worksheets with various taste categories: aroma, acidity, body, sweetness and finish. Within this, there was a whole spectrum of flavours to pick out. Hints of hazelnut? Brown sugar and citrus fruit? Popcorn and toasted oats? Nutmeg and black pepper? The fascinating thing was that, presented with the Coffee Taster’s Colour Wheel, we really started to open our palates to these tastes and actually be able to perceive them. The different shades of taste, aromas and sensations in each cup are marked with different colours on the wheel—green for vegetal, earthy herbs, pink for fruity notes, and so on—and Simone encouraged us to close our eyes as we sipped the coffee to see which colour we tasted.
After a couple of hours of cupping, it’s safe to say I was buzzed. Aside from drawing in tourists, coffee enthusiasts and budding professionals, the Scuola del Caffè also serves an educational purpose for their own team members. This is another way in which Ditta excels in Florence, where employee training and career progression isn’t always as high priority as it could be. We were joined by two new recruits in our class, who helped prepare the tastings as well as taking part in them, and I couldn’t help but think it was a more comprehensive training than you’d surely get in most workplaces.
“Scuola del Caffè is a new project for us,” Simone concludes, “but it is probably the natural consequence of our core idea about educating the customer rather than serving them. Since 2013, Ditta Artigianale has aimed to bring Italian traditions in coffee to a higher level of quality. The Scuola del Caffè is an instrument to make it in a totally different way.”