FIESOLE (Florence) – A new entry in the La Marzocco team spoke to readers: Nora Smahelova is the new head of the Fiesole Academy. An important role that comes after a long career in the sector, which started from behind a counter. We read his story through his own words.
Nora Smahelova, what’s coffee for you?
“Coffee for me is highly fascinating – it is an always changing and evolving product with so many links and factors between seed to the final “ready to drink” cup. The community around coffee is very dynamic and full of inspiration and diverse impulses. The beautiful thing about coffee is that people enjoy it for its energizing effects, its rich culture and, finally, coffee plays a key role in many social scenarios.”
How did you come onboard to work with – and for – La Marzocco?
“I started to work as a barista 21 years ago, back in the days I didn’t have any clue about coffee, but I enjoyed the handcraft and the communication with the customers when being behind the bar. The first espresso machine I got to know was a La Marzocco Linea Classic… As I really enjoyed the usability, the clear lines of the design and the ergonomics, I started to get curious about the company and started to follow all the new products on display at tradeshows and events around Germany and abroad… Well, thinking about it, I now realize that La Marzocco was unconsciously present in my life since I started to work with coffee. I even won the German Barista Championship 2002 pulling shots on a Linea Classic as well as worked as a green coffee account manager…
Guess which machine I bought when I opened a coffeeshop in Berlin?
And today, in one of the locations I co-manage in the German capital, Chapter One, stands a beautiful Leva machine. Beside this I made very good friends within the LM family…. It feels like a totally natural process, it started with me being a follower
and fan of La Marzocco, appreciating the products and quality of its espresso machines, the design and the philosophy behind the company and way of thinking. Then one day I started to work as a barista on the La Marzocco booth in Germany.
In 2017 I started to work for the German Branch office as person in charge for Social Media and a short time later I was appointed a full time lead position in Coffee I Community I Education , a blend of marketing, sales support, education and consultancy…. And now I am at the Accademia del Caffè Espresso… Being here feels like I can apply and share what I have experienced in my coffee journey and keep on learning and improving.”
How is it going with your Italian?
Nora Smahelova: “I wish it would go faster, but I guess I just have to be a bit more patient with myself. I am happy that I am surrounded by the language all day, because it is way more easy to get used to the sound and learn in the practice. On top to this I am learning every day with an app and do a weekly class…. I enjoy learning a new language – it is the most direct connection to other cultures. Being able to communicate in another
language is like a door opener and fosters an appreciation for history, arts, traditions and habits of the people associated with that language.”
Nora Smahelova, your role is that of Coffee Education Leader: what does this mean?
“I am working hand in hand with Massimo Battaglia, who is the Coffee Research Leader. Together we are responsible for all coffee related topics starting with the connection to the origins and until the espresso which you drink… we aim to promote and share experience and learn from others throughout the whole chain of coffee. We have beautiful labs here at Accademia where we can host people from all the world and have an ongoing exchange, as coffee is a dynamic subject matter. My role is to share these experience and
help to improve and spread knowledge about all espresso related topics. We are currently working on the creation of classes for Accademia and at same time we put together some virtual content to cope with the global pandemic and have the possibility to stay connected with the coffee community.”
What will the educational offering be focused on?
Nora Smahelova: “Accademia del Caffè Espresso is the cultural hub of the culture of espresso coffee. Our goal is to improve the coffee sector, share and increase knowledge and competence – reflecting the habits of the past and combining it with the contemporary interpretation of espresso and the culture around it. At the moment given the current situation we have to rethink and adapt to the pandemic situation– which means more things which will happen virtually… it is a project in motion, always adapting to the spirit and trends of the time, same as coffee. Now we are all in an extreme situation of a global pandemic, a time which gives us the possibility to reflect and rethink habits and rituals and think out of the box, as we were all taken out of our comfort zones – it’s the time of changes.”
How will the connection with universities take shape and how important is this?
“Everyone drinks coffee but it is sad that there is still so little awareness about coffee in the global picture compared to other industries. Projects with universities help a lot to find and define new conclusions about all kinds of factors related to coffee. It gives us more insight into its identity as well as traceability. Amongst other research projects, we started with 4 agreements for a collaboration between Cup of Excellence, Asociacion Nacional De Cafe De Guatemala (ANA Cafe), Insituto Hondureno Del Cafè (IHCAFE), Consejo Salvadoreno del Café (CSC) and Instituto del Café de Costa Rica (ICAFE). In this cooperation we will try samples of the best coffees from the mentioned origin countries to evaluate specialty coffees through the chemical analysis through volatile compounds of each of the coffees. This research is made possible with the support of University of Florence (UNIFI), PNAT from Stefano Mancuso and Enea of Casaccia in Rome,
who provide the labs and entire research tools, competence and human resource.”
What about a collaboration with Hospitality schools?
“It is important to raise awareness about coffee on all levels and spread the knowledge about specialty coffee. We don`t put any limits to thinkable collaborations. Accademia is a totally open platform, starting from professionals, home baristas, coffee enthusiasts, people who want to learn more about espresso machines, seed to cup, see how roasting works, how to improve the quality and awareness about coffee, etc. An important element to pay attention to is the education and training towards anyone who prepares
coffee as they are one of the last links of the coffee chain.
There are so many things which can be done in the wrong way during the preparation and therefore undermine the efforts put into coffee throughout the previous steps along the value supply chain. For the ones who operate an espresso machine it is essential to know the tools and instruments, so that they can leverage the equipment’s full potential and handle the technology in order to perform the best result in the cup. And at the same time, that same person needs to have a certain knowledge about coffee to decide the adequate temperature / brew ratio / extraction time / pressure profile required to achieve a balanced, rich and tasty espresso.”
Quality and sustainability: how to reach them both? Are they characteristics that can be separated nowadays?
“In my point of view quality is a huge part of sustainability. Quality and Sustainability should be present and carried out in the entire chain of coffee in order to reduce the distance between the plant and the cup. Being aware and conscious of knowing all the background behind a cup of coffee gives a huge value added to the moment when you enjoy it, appreciating each single step….Producing coffee should happen under
respect to the environment and the eco-system under a social and productive context, defining and communicating an eco-compatible methodology.
In an optimal surrounding it leads to mitigating the effects of climate change, but also allows to promote the production of high quality coffee, using given natural resources such as water and soil. The same approach should be reflected in the development of
sustainable techniques at the other end of the chain, in the transformation and consumption phase….”
Regarding the projects aimed at promoting and achieving quality… do they refer to origin or involve other locations and parties?
Nora Smahelova: “Actually we are trying to not focus solely on one part of the coffee value chain, but to reinforce and value each of them, as it is a dynamic system …. More awareness you raise at every stage, even better will be the next step… We are always trying to share the whole picture, this is why we for example have built a huge greenhouse at the heart of Accademia, so that all visitors can experience and connect themselves with the coffee cultivation environment. You can enjoy an espresso at our “Gran Bar Accademia” where, on one side you can look out the window into the beauty of the Tuscan landscape and, on the other side, you can see coffee trees growing … surrounded by banana trees. We can`t wait to welcome visitors from all around the world.”