Monday 27 June 2022

Niki di Landa: “Athens, vibrant scene, an espresso for table service costs up to 4 euro”

The champion: "I'm working with a team of web agencies, architects and local roasters on a personal project. A coffee house, where people can experience and live the place with all their senses: from the aesthetics and satisfaction of the eyes, to the taste with regional Italian products, to the specially designed music, to the aroma of the coffee."

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MILAN – Elvira Niki di Landa, the current Italian ibrik champion, had already told us here about her experience in the competition, what led her to victory and what coffee represented for her – in particular the extraction method she had decided on for the Italian competition – and now she is back to share with readers her present, still made up of training, passion and new projects. This time, however, not from Milan, but from Athens, a place she feels particularly close to and has chosen as the city in which to build her near future.

Niki di Landa, born in Bologna, brought up in Greece, in love with coffee in Milan, trained in Verona with Davide Cobelli: a great story of travel: where are you now, what do you do?

“Since June 2021, I have moved back to Athens. I had been saying for a long time that I was coming back, until the Covid and the forced lockdown in Milan gave me the push I needed to react and pack my bags. I needed a change: I know Athens well because it was here that I studied law for a few years and I felt that I would return one day.
I currently work in marketing and collaborate with various start-ups in the coffee sector, so I have several projects in my hands. I’m in charge of selecting staff, providing training, but above all designing and proposing menus that are consistent with the positioning of the café.”

Italian Ibrik champion in 2020 with a natural Indonesia, and now training for the world championships: how and with whom are you training, what is your routine like, what is the coffee you will propose to the judges?

“The news finally came just a few weeks ago, after a good two years of postponement. I am now training with some very interesting coffee cuppings, made with new processes and which taste amazing in the cup. I’m being supported by a local team, from a roasting company that is very well established in the city, but always with the supervision and exchange with Italy and the Coffee Training Academy, dealing with Davide Cobelli and Simone Cattani.

The routine is still being tacked up, but it is certain that I want to get back to making coffee speak out loud. After two years in which there were no competitions and the sector came to a standstill, we need to resume the role of ambassador: the barista must give voice to the product, to the producers who have been isolated in recent months. ”

Was the forced stop for Covid hard? How did you experience it professionally and what happened in Greece in the on-trade?

“During the various lockdowns I was in Italy but still managed to travel to Greece, between Athens and Thessaloniki. From a professional point of view it was very hard, there’s no denying it, but today I can say “luckily there was“. It may sound absurd, but I personally think that certain situations spur you on, making you realise how lucky you really are. Here in Greece, I have seen a way of consuming the drink that has not stopped: delivery, take-away and delivery platforms have taken over. These are two channels that have always been rooted here in Greece and which, with Covid, have proved to be functional.

Niki di Landa, tell us a little about Athens: what is the specialty scene like ? Is it still for the few or is it growing? Are there many coffee shops? Is specialty coffee also available in supermarkets? And, out of curiosity, how much does espresso cost?

“A vibrant, international scene. In traditional coffee shops you can find a sand heater for the ibrik and at least two or three coffee grinders with different varieties to offer the public. There are still many establishments that rely on multinationals, on the loan of use and other dynamics that we know well in Italy, but more and more people are approaching the specialty. It is not uncommon to hear customers, even those of a certain age or culture, asking what coffee is on the daily menu or what variety the café offers during the week. ”
Espresso here is drunk 99% double, and mostly cold in the famous freddo espresso. Basically, this drink costs 1.80/2€ for take-away, but it can go up to 3.5/4€ for table service.

In the supermarkets you don’t find the specialty yet, but there is a huge offer of single-origin, filter coffee and even hybrid coffee has different variations and origins.”

What about labour availability in Greece? Is there the same shortage as in many other countries, including Italy?

Niki di Landa explains: “The shortages are seasonal in Greece. There is this phenomenon whereby you start to feel the problem of lack of staff around March – so soon – until early autumn. This is because a lot of workers decide to go on the islands where the pay is very good, work during the summer months and then return to the city. ”

Is the figure of the barista professionally valued in Greece compared to Italy?

“The bartender is not seen as a low-value professional. They are trained and as such are recognised and paid differently – we are talking about clear differences – compared to those who are not qualified or who do not do the job with passion. Here too there are many training schools in the sector, as well as seminars, Sca courses and the competition scene is very popular and coveted. Bartenders are often consultants, organising workshops and collaborations. ”

Italy is to apply for Unesco status for espresso coffee: as an Italian-Greek, how do you see this possible recognition? Is it an added value or a risk for the drink?

“I have a very cynical approach, unfortunately, to this initiative and others like it, such as World Coffee Day. More than Unesco, it will have to be us who understand its real value. Having recognition and then continuing to sell an espresso at the counter for €1? The value is not only in the cup sold at the counter: it is for those who serve it, for those who work with it, something much more significant. The entire supply chain must be recognised. Otherwise they are just headlines. ”

Let’s wrap up with future projects: we know that something new is brewing, the Espresseria in Athens. Niki di Landa, can you tell us something about it?

“Yes, I’m working with a team of web agencies, architects and local roasters on a personal project. A coffee house, where people can experience and live the place with all their senses: from the aesthetics and satisfaction of the eyes, to the taste with regional Italian products, to the specially designed music, to the aroma of the coffee.

In short, a space to be experienced that is not just a place for consumption. We need to get these places back. Here, the mild climate and culture make it possible, people are used to being in a place, working on their PCs, holding business appointments at the bar, which is the place par excellence of conviviality”.

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