In the year of coffee – B.E. and A.E.

Volume 7, . Comments

Café Britt got into the espresso business in the mid 1980s. In all of Costa Rica there were probably three espresso machines at the time.

I decided that we’d be the first representatives of “La Pavoni,” a line of Italian espresso machines. I had to buy 10 machines and all the spare parts to get the representation. It took us three years to sell them all!

In these years “Before Espresso” (B.E.), no one knew anything about cappuccinos or espressos or lattes. In fact, consumers didn’t now much at all about gourmet coffee.

I remember a U.S. survey from the 1980s. The people questioned named Italy as the world’s #2 coffee producer. Italy! The Italians are masters of roasting and blending Brazils and robusta coffees. But, coffee doesn’t grow in Italy!

About the same time a visionary named Howard Schultz discovered he loved Italian coffee shops, but not Italian coffee. He introduced espresso made of very good arabica coffee. His Starbucks coffee shops combined it with urban sophistication. And, boom!

How times have changed!

In 1998, we were at a Specialty Coffee Association convention in the U.S.. The people of La Cimbali, another great house of Italian espresso machines, approached us. They asked us to represent them.

They set up training courses for us in Milan. We created a department with five people dedicated to selling and servicing espresso machines all over the Americas and the Caribbean. We set up a full-fledged espresso bar here at Britt and hope to expand it in the near future. We set up another at Costa Rica’s historic National Theater.

That little “semi-idea” we had in the 1980s about espresso has finally kicked in here at home. We’re selling 200 machines a year. The era of “After Espresso” (A.E.) has arrived.

Today, Costa Ricans have had a real change of attitude about specialty coffee. To their parents, an espresso machine was an oddball thing. This generation thinks its cool to have a cappuccino or an espresso. A new hotel wouldn’t dream of opening here without having espresso on the menu.

Café Britt has had a real part in the espresso revolution. At some point along the way, espresso stopped being an Italian thing, an ethnic thing. And it became a great way to enjoy coffee.

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About Steve Aronson

New York coffee broker Steve Aronson founded Café Britt in 1985 to market roasted Costa Rican coffees to the world.


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