Work continues with passion in the Research and Development laboratory, which was started back in the 1960s, by skilled researchers and scholars in the Barbera family, whose publications were made known through important scientific journals. It is with pride that work continues, updating these studies to improve understanding of the physics and biological systems of coffee: from the study of the odourless gases and volatile substances of roasted coffee we have passed on to acquiring further knowledge on that extraordinary characteristic which is peculiar to espresso – crema.
You may think that coffee is just a simple drink, but it is much more complex; aroma derives from around 1,500 notes, chemical characteristics, and studying it means involving expertise from many different sectors. The Barbera company is developing this research in its quality control and sensorial analysis laboratories.
Study of the product begins in the countries of origin, which lie in the tropical zone, between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn, where the Barberas regularly visit and carry out inspections. Different aspects of the biology of coffee are studied, from the characteristics of the plant to its interaction with climate and the environment. The territory contributes greatly to the identity of a coffee. ‘Cru’ selection, that is, those coffees from selected plantations, from different countries, which go to make up a blend, is a highly complex process: purchased coffee is regularly re-tasted, to verify that the characteristics for which it was selected are still present. A single batch can be tasted and evaluated many times before being added to the composition of a blend. Samples of different varieties which have been analysed are archived so as to create a historic record.
Roasting is the most delicate phase of the entire production process; the characteristics of the future drink depend on the type of technique used. Roasted beans change colour, lose weight, increase in volume and acquire aromatic richness. Caffè Barbera follows a traditional, slow roasting method. Beans from different origins are roasted separately and cycles last at least 15 minutes. Raw coffee beans are heated up gradually until they reach a temperature of around 210°. Each, single batch undergoes rigid quality control checks, taking determined parameters into consideration which today, after years of study, have become standards to be met, and which result in an unchanging product over time. When roasting has finished, the coffee is air-cooled so as to condense aromatic substances within the bean. It is then stored in silos for varying times, depending on the characteristics which the product must acquire, before being packed.
This is, perhaps, the most fascinating part of the process of research and production of coffee – creating a blend is a true art which requires sensitivity and experience. It is thanks to the blending of different origins that each company renders its own product different, unique and recognisable. The best blends are made from different qualities and can include up to six different types. They may be 100% Arabica or a mix of Arabica and Robusta: the former, sweet and fragrant, the latter, full-bodied and decided.
Every roasting company, indeed, has its own recipe. In the case of the Barbera company, ancient family secrets have been handed down over six generations, which today still guarantee a quality product. Blends are constantly being re-analysed in the laboratory, to check that they still retain their characteristics, and new recipes are created, also at the specific request of clients. Technical files are created for each blend, with graphics showing organoleptic profiles to describe all the characteristics of the coffee blend. The files also contain information relating to roasting and coffee quality, and on how the blend was created.
Research in recent years also includes other aspects, in particular with regard to product and production sustainability:
- Maximum reduction of energy in the coffee roasting process;
- Packaging and reduction of environmental impact of packaging;
- Easy-open, watertight cans to preserve coffee quality and fragrance as long as possible;
- Biodegradability and compostability of new, single-serving products.