MILAN – We interviewed Vito Michele Zichittella, the vice president of the Board of Directors and marketing director of the Zicaffè roasting company in Marsala (Trapani), a historic Sicilian company, one of the most important in roasting and selling coffee even abroad (from where 35% of the revenues come). This is a long detailed interview that allowed us to discover (almost) everything about the Zicaffè brand.
From 1929 to 2022: four generations of one family. What has changed in all these years and what remained constant?
“Our passion for coffee has been immutable since the very beginning. We still choose the finest green coffees to craft our blends; the same way my grandfather Vito Zichittella did. And that allowed him to expand his coffee business in the province of Trapani, Sicily.
In 1949, Vito’s sons, Guido and Martino, supported the business, and the Vito Zichittella & C. was founded. In 1958 Vito’s son Giuseppe joined the company.
As the business activity grew, so did the sales network, which soon covered the West of Sicily, the whole region later.
In 1971 the Vito Zichittella & C. became a company limited by shares and named Zicaffè.
The third generation of the Zichittella family joined the company in 1974, helping the founder’s sons in managing the company. Long experience and fresh energies of the young generation, helped the company grow even further.
In 1976 the business was relocated into new premises. A newly built 3500 square metres factory in a 45.000 sqm property.
Since 2011 the third generation of the Zichittella family, of which I am part, is supported by the fourth generation, which contributes to the national and international business development.”
The island of Sicily is where you come from and is the Italian region which you conquered first: but is Zicaffè also present in the rest of Italy? And around the world?
“Zicaffè is a roasting company from Marsala, Sicily. We distribute our coffee blends mainly in Sicily, through Ho.re.ca., Retail and OCS; and we have a domestic distributors’ network which covers both Southern and Northern Italy in the Ho.re.ca.segment.
Since the late 90s, our coffee blends are being sold internationally. The first overseas market we approached was Germany, later followed by other EU countries. Over the years, the international sales network of Zicaffè continously extended, exporting coffee to Russia, Canada, U.S.A., Australia, China, South Corea, South Africa and Morocco. The current export volume is 35% of total turnover.”
You bestow great care on the selection of the green coffees: are your coffees without impurities, as specialty coffees? What are you thinking of this market, is it still a nich product or are there good possibilities for the future?
“Zicaffè focuses on coffee quality above all, importing only the finest green coffees from reliable suppliers, who can guarantee uniformity of supply with no impurities. We constantly monitor quality of the imported coffees with laboratory tests and sensorial analysis.
I believe that the market of “specialty coffees” may grow in the future, because of the increasing diffusion of a coffee culture and the awareness of consumers who know the difference between a poor quality and high quality coffee.
Zicaffè always put the utmost attention on the selection of coffee producers and coffee beans. Before purchase, every coffee sample undergoes strict testing, and is cupped by indipendent coffee tasters, who assess qualities and defects of the single origins.
That’s why I am proud to say that Zicaffè shares somehow the same vision of “specialty coffee”, as we’re totally devoted to coffee quality, even before 1974.
I believe that it’s important to spread the culture of high quality coffees. For this reason, we started educational programs for our partners, both domestic and overseas. Our educational programs started over 10 years ago and concern sensorial analysis, coffee brewing and tasting.”
The roasting process is an imporant phase during production: you have a special roasting method. Can you tell us more about it?
“Roasting is actually a crucial phase of processing coffee. Altough it takes only a few minutes, it’s the roasting process which will define the taste of a coffee and which may bring out the best or completely destroy the aromatic compounds of coffee.
We put the utmost care on the roasting and blending of our coffees, as these two phases define the quality of the coffee.
During the roasting process, the coffee beans undergo a complete transformation and get their characteristic brown colour. At the same time sugars caramelize, cellulose carbonizes and the beans develop their aroma.
The roasting itself is technically simple to describe: the coffee beans are roasted by hot airstreams of 400°C, in which beans are suspended. Unlike direct-flame roasting, hot air roasting allows a homogenous roasting of the beans without scorching.
The whole production takes place under the supervision of our roasting masters. Thanks to a careful selection and roasting process, Zicaffè coffee blends have a complex aromatic profile given by specialty grade coffees.”
You have a product range for home use inspired by your blends for coffee shops: did you strengthen the home sectory in order to react to the crisis of horeca? Did you strengthen your online presence in order to reach consumers who are used to purchase online, also because of Covid?
“Zicaffè’s product range for home use is crafted with same fine coffees we use in the HoReCa channel. The result is a great coffee, at home as away from home.
Zicaffè creates different harmonious blends in order to meet every request of demanding customers; that is why we have 23 different products in our portfolio.
Our coffee blends for connoisseurs and professionals are the result of a long experience.
The OCS segment (corporate and vending) is also growing lately. We have a range of dedicated products (pods or capsules) which have the same quality as our Ho.re.ca. blends and offer an intense taste and aroma.
Online sales – both domestic and overseas – had a significant increase. Both pandemic and a younger generation of coffee consumers led to greater volume of online purchases. The trend shows that there is an increasing demand for quality coffees made in Italy.”
You are talking about coffee blends- one of the actual trends is the single origin coffee: what do you think about it?
“During the years we tested many single origin coffees, thus gaining knowledge of their characteristics. We saw some roasting companies giving space to single origin coffees in their portfolio. Yet we preferred to stay true to our tradition: crafting coffee blends; and some of our blends contain up to five different green coffees. In fact, I believe that a good coffee blend combines different aromatic characteristics that it would be hard to find in a single origin coffee: some coffees have higher acidity, others are sweet or have notes of vanilla or cocoa, other coffees have spicy notes or notes of dried fruit: every single origin coffee is different.
We think that it takes and shows a greater expertise to make coffee blends. A single origin might be good, but we think it flatten the aromatic complexity that espresso should have. A good coffee blend can make the difference, as it is the result of a long experience and know-how.”
Sostainibility is one important point that can not be ignored by companies. What does Zicaffè do and plan to do regarding this important suject?
“We started a sustainability pattern long time ago. Our care for environment also led us to deploy a solar power system in our premises, which provide energy for the manufacturing process. At the same time we have reduced emissions.”
What are you expecting for Zicaffè in 2022?
“Zicaffè aims at strenghening its worldwide presence and spreading the culture of authentic Italian espresso with its partners around the globe.
Our international business vision is the result of 30 years of experience during which we spread the coffee culture among our partners through courses, coffee tasting classes and sensorial analysis.
In the past years, the company took part to several international trade shows (ANUGA Cologne, SIAL Paris, FOODEX Tokyo, HOST Milan, MAROCOTEL Casablanca etc.) in order to present its product range and look for new partners to represent Italian coffee culture.
Zicaffè manufacturing philosophy is combining artisanal experience and up-to-date technology, in order to ensure the highest quality, as well as food safety and environmental sustainability.
High quality standards led to important commercial success but the main mission remains the art of espresso. Since 1929, Zicaffè continues to roast coffee blends with the same passion as its founder.”