Anyone can brew a good cup of coffee.
Generally speaking, Canadians love their coffee. And a decade ago, when the first whispers of specialty coffee began to emerge, it didn’t take long for demands of better coffee — nay, exceptional coffee— to follow suit. And thanks to Edmonton local Antonio Bilotta, we got what we asked for. Though he sold his café a couple of years ago, Antonio of Da Capo still delivers high-quality beans, full of complexity and nuance, to the greater Edmonton area and beyond.
Venice is where it all began. With Antonio’s experiences in his beloved Italy, and precious time spent there with his family, Antonio considers coffee, cuisine, and culture integral to the heartbeat of daily life.
In 2005, when Antonio first embarked on his coffee-roasting journey, he decided it was best to understand how coffee varies regionally. “My journey started in the North, in Milano, and took me to Veneto, down to Tuscany, Rome, Sicily, Puglia, and finally, Naples.”
His hands-down favourite? Northeast Italy. “When I returned, I worked with a local roast-master to fully recreate the coffee I so enjoyed in Venice.” Since then, he has travelled the world and worked closely with experts to bring Edmonton the most thoughtfully-prepared joe available.
Coffee preparation and enjoyment is the glue that holds communities together, whether that be a bustling restaurant, the office kitchen, or a beatnik cafe. These are places where we talk, chill together, refuel, or simply sit down and have a rest. But city-wide shutdowns reminded Antonio and so many other coffee enthusiasts to slow down and enjoy the morning ritual of home preparation.
“Anyone can brew a good cup of coffee,” he says, and it’s the coffee itself that holds the promise. “There are three levels to preparing a good cup of coffee, and it all begins with the beans.”
Enjoy the ritual.
When Antonio visited his sources in Columbia and Ethiopia, he learned the first step in a good quality roast: the farm. “It was an educational experience, absolutely. And very humbling. There was this expectation for me to bring gifts for the families, crayons, toys for children, things like that, but I didn’t know this. Everything was new to me.”
While Da Capo coffee is not certified organic, particularly the Ethiopian origins and blends, they are as natural and pure as they come. As “it’s a poverty-stricken area,” Antonio wants to do what he can to support these communities. “They can’t afford organic-label certifications, but these coffees are cultivated without chemicals.” To maintain good trust and traceability, Antonio ensures his coffee supply farms are visited at least twice per year. This deepens Antonio’s —and his customer’s— relationship with the beans and the ethics behind the industry, all while making the final blend even more his own unique creation.
Everyone’s tastes are as unique as a fingerprint.
The second integral portion to a good coffee is the processor. A roaster who truly knows what they’re doing makes the difference between a blasé cup of coffee and an exceptional one. “Look, big coffee giants, they only know one way.” They make what sells, and that’s it. “But it’s not always the right way.” One needs to adapt to the demands of the consumer, and evolve their tastes accordingly.
Antonio frequents cuppings, which are the coffee equivalents to wine sommelier events. “My first event was an extremely humbling experience.” He had no prior experience in coffee tasting, but he knew he wanted to be there. Most coffee sommeliers, Q graders, use the cupping process to taste, evaluate, and score coffees. These are imperative to the supplier, as it ensures they are selling the best possible product. Here, green beans and the perfect roasts are evaluated. Everything from the grounds, the aroma, taste, aftertaste, and beyond, are scrutinized. It was at this initial cupping event that Antonio intuitively chose the highest ranking roast among all the other experienced coffee tasters. “I just chose what I liked, and I suppose I naturally like the best.”
Antonio, a self-admitted purist, considers a thorough understanding of the local pulse an essential asset to success. Beyond his skill of making a great cup of coffee, having an inside grasp of what customers will like, paired with superior quality and transparency, makes it special. Everyone’s tastes are as unique as a fingerprint, and much like wine or cuisine, people’s tastes in coffee vary throughout the seasons. “I no longer consider my own likes, but my entire client base. I keep an open mind, and I find I discover so many new exciting blends and methods this way. Coffee really does have so many different personalities.” It is this open-mindedness that puts Da Capo’s online presence at an exciting point in Antonio’s trajectory: a rich landscape of choices and the highest-caliber preparations, paired with thoughtfully-sourced and well-roasted beans.
Keep it simple.
The third and final stage to good coffee is in how one makes it. First thing in the morning, preparing fresh ground coffee is something of a meditative morning ritual for him. Air, he asserts, is the mortal enemy of beans, so he will never use pre-ground coffee. While at home, Antonio’s daily ritual begins with the grind. “I just use a simple hand grinder. The grind is consistent and it’s easy to travel with.” And while Antonio prefers his fancy espresso machine above all else, for compact travel or more casual coffee drinkers, he recommends a gravity-driven brew method or slightly pressurized, “Such as the Chemex or Aeropress. These are just brands, you can find plenty of good quality gravity-based brewers out there, but these are the most common names people recognize.”
Focus on high quality roasts and thoughtful preparation, and your coffee will shine all on its own.
Yet what about vanilla lattes, caramel macchiatos, and triple-breve-candy-frappuccinos? Antonio laughs. “Sure, they’re fun, I suppose, but that’s not a coffee addiction. That’s a sugar addiction.” They’re typically made with a lot of milk, sugar, and artificial flavourings. They “cover up” the natural beauty of a good quality roast.
“Keep it simple,” is his advice. “Iced coffee is great, but otherwise, don’t get too fancy. Focus on high quality roasts and thoughtful preparation, and your coffee will shine all on its own.”
And you don’t have to travel all the way to Venice for a quality espresso, either. The Cinque (5) espresso blend from Da Capo is a traditional Italian espresso blend with one exception. It’s made from 100% Arabica coffee beans. This is a morning and midnight-oil essential for everyone in the Kolya break room!
Coffee has an invisible rhythm. It spiders and patterns out everywhere and connects us like a beating, heavily caffeinated heart. And thanks to pros like Antonio, and the individuals who fill their cups with his blends, those rhythms can beat just a little bit faster.
… Still puzzled by the world of joe? Stay tuned for our Tea Drinker’s Guide to Good Coffee!