Rubens Gardelli told us he wanted to become the Ferrari in the coffee industry. “I don’t teach you how to roast good coffee. I am good coffee.”
The 2017 World Coffee Roasting Champion has a profound and pure lovefor his job, coffee roasting. Sometimes this love makes him look like an artist living in one’s own world: he prefers to work with the like-minded and pictures his ideal life as visiting coffee plantations to explore new flavors. But he is also a hardworking go-getter. He believes in the importance of competitions for coffee professionals and “will keep competing until becoming the champion”.
Before the 2017 WCRC championship, Rubens Gardelli might be a lesser-known name to the world outside specialty coffee. But he has already crowned four national coffee roasting championships in Italy and one World Brewers Cup Italy in 2014. Besides, Gardelli is also the founder of a namesake specialty coffee beans brand.
In addition to all that, Gardelli has been remembered by his peers and the industry for his roasting project in Uganda and the fact that he never uses geisha during competitions.
A coffee roaster who knows how to fly a plane
Gardelli knows or used to know how to fly a plane. It was his major in college. But he went to the coffee business instead starting with running his mother’s coffee shop in Italy, his hometown. It is not an easy start as the venue was in financial crisis when Gardelli took it over.
This is probably the first commitment Gardelli made to coffee. He saw it as his job and he was about to nail it. And he did. While working at the coffee shop, Gaedelli learnt almost everything about coffee and roasting on the Internet. He gave huge credit to two amazing websites that help his self-learning, sweetmarias.com and homeroasters.org. He even built a 5kg roasting machine by himself with instructions online.
Now Gardelli is using a 15kg machine produced in South Africa by a friend he knew on the website of homeroasters.org. The manufacturer is an engineer with the same absolute passion for what one is doing. After knowing about that, Gardelli made the deal and also a good friend.
“I need a bigger machine for the future. But I never want to make one by myself. It’s just a nightmare,” said Gardelli with absolute honesty.
The Uganda project
Gardelli started competing for the coffee roasting champion since 2014, in the wish of gaining more knowledge and experience. At each competition, Gardelli said he never used geisha because he wanted to bring something different. He had been talking to coffee plantations across the globe to see if any of them were willing to harvest and roast beans following his instructions. Only a young man named Dison in Uganda replied with the largest eager and passion.
This is the start of Gardelli’s Uganda project. He chose this relatively ignored origin place struck by heavy impoverishment because of a seemingly coincidence. But he knows for sure there will be something after he tasted the first harvest. The beans were not as fruity as he expected but he saw huge potential in the raw material.
Gardelli travelled to Uganda and joined the entire process of coffee harvesting, processing and roasting. Something worth noted is that Gardelli is the first one to use the natural method to process the beans instead of the wet method widely used in Uganda. After many experiments, Gardelli got what he wanted and the result was “mind blowing”.
This is the Mzungu Porject sold as a major product line of his Gardelli Specialty Coffee. Mzungu means “white man” in the local language. It came to Gardelli’s mind when he riding through some farmlands in Uganda on a motorcycle and boys saw him and greeted him as “Mzungu”. For them, Gardelli is just an exotic “white man”. But for the coffee farmer, Gaedelli means more than that.
Gardelli bought all the production of that specific plantation and paid the farmer with a price 1.5 of that in a normal coffee trade in Uganda. Through the Mzungu beans, Gardelli hopes people can have a different perspective toward Uganda beans.
Specialty coffee and Italy
It is only specialty coffee that Gardelli wants to commit to, never commercial ones. He received orders of averagely 400 to 500kg every week on the Gardelli Specialty Coffee website. 80% of them are from outside Italy. “The espresso tradition of Italy is so deep-rooted. It is still not ready for specialty coffee and the pour over,” said Gardelli.
Considering of this, Gardelli only focuses on the oversea market. His website has only one language, English. And he is looking for distributors in big specialty coffee markets around the world. But education and promotion of the coffee culture are not part of his priority. He sees himself simply as a roaster and strives to become the best one. For 2018, he plans to move his roasting lab into a larger building, buy a bigger roasting machine and train his assistants in roasting so they can replace him in the lab. “Then I can have more time to travel to coffee plantations, looking for special projects like the Mzungu one. My goal is to create and sell the best coffee beans. That’s all,” said Gardelli.