Wednesday 07 December 2022

Magda Katsoura: «Life goes on, we need a re-start with new perspectives in mind»

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MILAN – Magda Katsoura, Sole Administrator of Torrefazione Monforte roasting company based in Campobasso, Italy, shares on the phone her story and thoughts while spending “forced holidays” in her house in Greece, in Kassandra Peninsula.

Magda Katsoura wouldn’t need any introduction

Born in Greece, daughter of a general, she arrived in Italy to study the Italian Language and Literature at the University for Foreigners in Perugia, where she then graduated. After her arrival in Italy, she falls in love with her husband and so decided to remain in The Beautiful Country. Thereafter, she attended courses in Journalism at the University of Urbino and in 1989 obtained the diploma in Botanic and Herbal Science.

Magda Katsoura decided to enter the coffee business

Torrefazione Caffè Monforte originated from a small roastery equipped with a 15kg coffee roasting machine. It could be described as a “neighbourhood coffee shop”, a very popular activity at the end of ‘90s, able to offer higher quality coffee products compared to the industrial standards of that time, Magda explains.

Over the years, the original investment made and serving as her personal entertainment and creativity outflow, has developed into a structured roasting company, thanks to Magda’s work and skills. In 1999 she participated for the first time at the International Coffee Fair (SIC) in Milan and observed: “I didn’t know anything about the Italian coffee world, in commercial terms. It was populated by coffee roasters, most of whom were born as bar tenders or coffee sellers, whose skills derived from the past experiences inherited from their fathers and not from specific education on the matter.

Moreover, most of them hadn’t available neither a wide range of green coffee origins nor technologically innovative machineries, which made me understanding why Espresso coffee tasted alike in the entire Peninsula. Then, in Italy, they only roasted and prepared Espresso, other types of coffee preparations, like filter coffee or Ibrik coffee, weren’t common.

Magda Katsoura decided to start her “training” in the coffee sector

“When I discovered that my passion for coffee blend creation of different origin wasn’t enough to guide the company, I resolved to start playing my entrepreneur role. So, I participated at coffee exhibitions and business missions all over the world.

In 1999 I became member of the Gruppo Italiano Torrefattori Caffè of Trieste GITC (Italian Coffee Roaster Group), because of commonly shared blending and roasting methods and believes. Meantime, GITC established the first disciplinary in the world, in terms of coffee blending, roasting and brewing for a high quality Espresso cup. Soon afterwards, two of Caffè Monforte coffee blends obtained the quality label Italian Espresso of Quality under SGS audit.

I also discovered to be one of the first entrepreneurs working in the coffee sector with a specific diploma and a scientific know-how on the matter. That allowed me to better explain my job as master roaster as well as the quality of my coffee blends, mainly in English, and, provided I spoke different languages, I played a double role: company administrator and export manger.”

Did you find it difficult as a woman?

I was like a fly in a glass of milk. The generation of coffee roasters’ daughters hadn’t started yet to take over the family business and, except from some roasters’ wives, very few women were managing companies at that time. I would describe myself as a self-made woman.”

Has the coffee sector changed over the years?

Yes, a lot. Unfortunately, Italians arrives always late, provided those changes originate abroad. Living in an international environment, I well noticed it and also observed how the Italian know-how of excellence has been spread far and wide abroad, where coffee company giants have been based on the Italian Espresso and coffee shop concept.

Personally, I think that we master roasters have to exclusively dedicate to coffee roasting, while others should sell our coffee blends. That’s essential to avoid any commercial factor conditioning our raw material choices and, then, the final espresso cup.

Unfortunately, Italian coffee consumers mainly buy coffee in supermarket chains, where their choice is conditioned by daily promotions and where some retail companies impose supply choices and selling prices. On the contrary, local roasting companies cannot do the same. So, forced to compete in terms of prices, we master roasters cannot win that battle thanks to marketing campaigns or coffee culture, especially in the single-dose coffee sector.

Therefore, I decided to concentrate on the export and Horeca channel, dedicating only 15% to the Retail and Vending sectors, even if selling coffee abroad generates significantly low incomes, ranging from 30% to 40%, while coffee sales in the Italian Horeca sector generate incomes up to 400%.”

What about large-scale distribution?

“I’ve been selling coffee for eight years at the Conad supermarket in Campobasso. Despite I didn’t earn much from that, I continued to offer consumers the chance to buy a top-quality coffee also at the supermarket.

However, I then decided to donate coffee to charity every year, rather than selling it to the large-scale distribution for low income.

Our company has a high production capacity, thanks to two roasting machines, respectively of 120kg and 60kg capacity per roasting cycle, and different packaging lines offering a wide range of products, satisfying the latest retail market trends and different international market demands.

That’s the reason why I decided to invest in technologically innovative and environment-friendly machineries, with reduced energy intake, despite I didn’t receive big financial aids from the State.”

Magda Katsoura, how are things going during the pandemic?

“Provided we’re mainly supplying 5-stars hotels in Dubai in collaboration with Boncafé, we continued roasting and packing gourmet coffee blends for them. Unfortunately, tourism has stopped in the current situation, especially, the élite one.

Then, we tried another way and enriched our e-shop. Unfortunately, provided coffee doesn’t belong to basic necessities, we’re selling very small amounts of coffee, as well as Amazon platforms do.

Are people more informed and educated about coffee today than in the past?

“There’s such a wide information available on the Internet that’s quite impossible not to know. However, not all information is correct, one has to pay attention.

Thanks to my trips to coffee cultivating countries, organized by SCA (Specialty Coffee Association), which I am member of, I had the chance to see with my own eyes the actual living conditions of coffee plantation workers, which are unacceptable in 2020. We cannot allow some people continue earning huge amounts of money out of those workers’ job and lives. There’s too much speculation in the coffee sector and too many unfair incomes arising along the way from coffee plantation to the coffee cup.

What’s your opinion about Corona virus? Is it offering the chance to improve oneself by making some changes to past habits? What would you do?

“First of all, I’d make consumers understanding that enjoying a cup of Italian coffee of quality is more than simply drinking coffee, is discovering a new exotic world. The price of one Euro per cup is nothing compared to the pleasure enjoyed. We should appreciate more the coffee cup value. Let’s hope that consumers would do it after the pandemic, when having a coffee at a coffee shop wasn’t possible.

Magda Katsoura ’s message …

“All operators of the coffee sector, from coffee machines’ manufacturers to roasting plants’ builders, from coffee roasters to bar tenders, we all need to take a long hard look at ourselves and identify what we’ve been doing wrong. I’m mainly speaking to the young managers of old roasting companies and of those connected to the coffee sector, relying upon past eases.

In my opinion, the solution to the current situation is made of different tesserae, such as better working conditions in coffee plantations and the coffee cup price speculation fight, to be realized thanks to coffee shop areas fair rental fees, regular employees, fair price/kg of roasted coffee and espresso coffee machines reasonable prices.

Moreover, coffee shop owners and bar tenders should feel free to choose the coffee they like and prefer for their own activities and not been conditioned by risky loans promised by coffee roasters; unacceptable habit outside Italy. Coffee shops shouldn’t be considered as occupation territories by coffee roasters.

The best cup of coffee depends on each one’s taste and knowledge. That’s why consumers should have the chance to taste different coffee blends and, then, choose the one they prefer, without being conditioned by delusive advertisements, paid with company funds at the expenses of the coffee cup quality.

Anyway, I’m optimistic. Provided I’m casually in Greece, in a region where we didn’t meet Corona virus, and in front of Mount Olympus giving me its energy from the inner of the Earth, I feel privileged. Far away from the Italian chaos and with a clear mind, I can state that things keep going. Then, we should stop and re-start with new perspectives in mind to always improve ourselves.

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