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Triestespresso

International Cafe Focus: Worlds Apart, United in Spirit

by Jonathan Bell


The Mystery of Azkoyen
The name Azkoyen is certainly well known enough in various sectors of international business. But, despite the fact that it is already famous in Spain for its coffee equipment, the coffee world at large is just beginning to note the arrival of this major new player in espresso grinder and brewer manufacturing.

Azkoyen might seem something of a mystery to those unfamiliar with the company. How is it possible for this Spanish enterprise, relatively new to the coffee industry, to be offering a complete range of distinctive, technically sophisticated and sleekly designed machines for the worldwide market? Why is the offer so confidently made, with such guarantees and, most importantly, with such an extensive international network of technical support and service?

Azkoyen is a Spanish company that has devoted almost half a century to the design, development, fabrication, marketing and service of a variety of vending machines. It has sales in 39 nations throughout North America, South America, Europe, Africa and Asia. The company is found in the small farming town of Peralta, just south of Pamplona-but no, no bulls run through its quiet campus- like complex of handsome new buildings.

Founded in 1945, Azkoyen has grown to rank among Spain’s larger companies, and although not of multi-national size, it has become a global leader in specific vending sectors. That it is respected by those who know it for an impressive record of growth and achievement was recently made clear when Forbes magazine honored Azkoyen by including it in its highly selective list of “The 300 Best Small Companies.” Company sales have doubled since 1994. In each of the past two years sales have progressed by 18%.

The company is actually a group of distinct enterprises and subsidiaries that together employ about 1,000 workers. There are three main manufacturing companies. Azkoyen Industrial, S.A., makes vending machines for cigarettes (in which sector it is number one worldwide), beverages-including, of course, coffee and tea-and foodstuffs and snacks. Azkoyen Medios de Pago, S.A., is a very high- tech center for developing and fabricating payment systems for the global market ranging from the simplest token, coin and bank note systems, to the latest in card technology. The third division, Azkoyen Hosteleria, S.A.-at the heart of our particular interest-is devoted to designing and building professional coffee machines, grinders and hot and cold display trays.

The company’s foreign subsidiaries include Azkoyen U.K., Azkoyen France, Azkoyen Deutschland and Azkoyen Portugal. In the other 35 nations where it has machines running, the company provides technical support and service through an extensive network of agents. In the U.S., for example, the Hosteleria division supports its espresso machines and grinders with a national service system operating in all 50 states. The system features a toll-free emergency telephone service whereby simple adjustments can be made by phone. If the problem is more serious, a trained serviceman is dispatched with a delay of at most three to four hours anywhere in the country.

Although the Hosteleria division is the most recently formed core activity, it too has prospered and expanded in the Azkoyen tradition. Created only 10 years ago, it is already the second largest manufacturer of coffee machines in Spain. In 1998, the division inaugurated a completely new manufacturing plant. Last year it further expanded its coffee-related activities by opening the most technically advanced coffee roasting facility in Spain. This roasting operation is devoted solely to serving vending and catering clients in Spain and Portugal, but nevertheless adds yet another dimension to Azkoyen’s growing experience with and focus on coffee.

Of the total Azkoyen workforce, 300 are now occupied in some way with coffee, including a 15-member team of in-house researchers and developers, among a 100-member team, the people who have given the division a complete line of state-of-the art, tried and tested espresso machines and grinders. In fact, Azkoyen’s Hosteleria Division has been consistently investing 50% of its profit back into research and development.

A trip down the Azkoyen espresso machine and grinder assembly lines demonstrates the care put into their manufacture. First, a box is filled with all the parts needed to build an individual machine. Each box has the name of its buyer on it, assuring that it is customized, individually tested and guaranteed to order.

Boilers are built and tested in-house. Housings, electronics, hydraulics and most key components are also produced here; those on contract from elsewhere are from dedicated suppliers, and each is individually tested by Azkoyen before being accepted onto the assembly line. Actually, the line is designed to be both a fully automated assembly line and at the same time a quality control and testing line. Electronics are automatically controlled for each machine. The hydraulics for each machine are tested for a full 15 minutes before mounting. When assembled, the espresso machine itself is then run continuously for a mandated four hours before it is considered complete.

Each espresso machine is also programmed with parameters set to conform to standards of grind and dosage in the buyer’s market. The machines are delivered ready to be turned on and serve coffee. The usual production time from confirmation of order to shipping is two weeks, but can be shortened according to specific demand.

Even while the various Azkoyen models of espresso machines go forth from the assembly line in ever-increasing numbers, the division maintains a steadfast focus on its grinder production. The grinder is, in fact, viewed as a key product and component in the Azkoyen coffee business program, and of equal importance to the espresso machine itself. Every grinder made by Azkoyen is run on the testing line for nine hours before being packed. According to the company, this has resulted in a service rate intervention of less than 0.5% per year in the entire international field where its grinders are in operation.

The Azkoyen product range covers the market from traditional models to semi and super automatic machines. Some of its outstanding models include the M-O1 automatic coffee grinder and doser, the AZ04 family of sleekly designed, fully programmable espresso machines, and the super-automatic CA-360 .

The AZ04 family includes models with one, two, three and four groups, all built for espresso and cappuccino service. The AZ04 can feature separate quantity and temperature programmables (a particular kindness to tea), simple push-button controls and digital displays.

For its part, the CA-360 super-automatic can serve up 360 cups of espresso per hour, each individually ground and dosed. The model is said to be easily programmable for serving different coffee styles (American cup format, as well as long and short espressos). It offers two bean hoppers, two separate grinding units, two serving groups and automatic cappuccino service. It runs on a nine liter boiler.

So far this year, Azkoyen has also released two new models- the Vienna, a traditional espresso machine-and Bravo. Bravo is a quite distinctive compact espresso maker with ingratiating contours in its design. It is available in one- and two-group versions.

Eduardo Urrestarazu is the division’s export manager. Patxi Landa is product manager of Azkoyen’s catering division. Azkoyen Group’s c.e.o. is Ignacio Moreno.

So, although it would have made for a better story, there really is no mystery about the rise of Azkoyen in foodservice coffee equipment. If its name is only now becoming better known to the global espresso market, that is largely because the company has been cautious and careful, making sure to design and produce brewers and grinders that would justly reflect its established international reputation for guaranteed quality workmanship.

Devotion in Lucca
Lucca. Could there be a more magical city in Italy? The ancient walled town is an intricate mosaic of treasures, from the Duke’s Palace to the Piazza San Michele, from the Cathedral of San Martino to the Roman amphitheater where, through the ages, houses were built into the base of the ring itself to form one of Europe’s most unusual public spaces.

Lucca has known many heroes, and loyally commemorates them at every turn of the twisting streets. Just outside the walls in a pleasant old quarter is a roasting company, Bei & Nannini. It, too, has its heroes-Nanninis have been famous race car drivers and popular singers-but Nanninis have also stayed steadfastly in Lucca to guard one of the highest traditions in Italian coffee. These Nannini’s are heroes, too.

Bei & Nannini is distinctly-perhaps proudly-old fashioned. It is also a very serious and somber kind of company, with a sense of devotional quiet pervading the company’s immaculately kept shop, offices and even its roasting plant that, in this writer’s experience, is absolutely unique. To be blunt, Bei & Nannini has the aura of a holy place for coffee.

The premises are simple but extensive. Inside the large, old building with “Bei & Nannini” in faded gold lettering over the arched doorways is a shop-the only shop the company owns. The large, elegant room is dominated by massive mahogany counters and shelves, large tropical plants fill the space and the walls and columns are painted in soft beige and peach hues. The floor is tiled. It seems large enough to be several stores, yet the focus is on the quiet elegance of the place-commercial displays and activity have been muted to the background at the discrete level of a Chopin étude.

Back through another set of heavy old doors one is ushered into the offices. And they, too, are of another time and place. More magnificent wood paneling and counters, more tiles. The thick glass windows are cut with the Bei & Nannini emblem-Columbus’ ship, the Santa Maria, with a huge cross emblazoned on the billowing sails. Here too, the sense of space and height is strong: ceilings must be a good 10 meters high, or so they seem. Again is the pervading sense of serious attention to duty-clerks bent over their carefully ordered desks, the offices as quiet as the plants that are their only adornments.

But Laura Nannini suddenly animates the rooms. Young and vivacious, she is one of the many Nanninis connected to the company. Her responsibilities are in sales and organizing the company’s presence at trade fairs. She makes it clear that even though Bei & Nannini was founded in 1923-and certainly hasn’t changed much since then-it is indeed thriving, expanding, exporting and introducing new products. The company has just launched a pod line, for example. Nevertheless, the somber, serious tone of Lucca comes back into her voice when she talks about the coffee itself. Then, there is the reverence that seems to stamp the company as something different.

“We are one of Lucca’s traditions,” she explains. “Giovanni Bei and Guido Nannini started the company. Now it’s all Nannini-my father, Bepe Nannini, is president, my uncle, Franco, has another coffee company in Rome called Moca. But all the coffee for both companies is bought here and roasted in our plant. “We buy our green coffee directly, from several origins, but our focus is on quality Brazils, which we bring in through the ports of Livorno, Genoa and Trieste. All our coffees, espresso and mocha styles, are blends. Our premium product and what we are best known for is Gran Miscella Colombo. It’s a 100% Arabica blend, Brazil and Central American Milds. We have a range of other blends too, for bar and home, in tins, brick packs and valve bags.”

Each of the Bei & Nannini blends is prepared following long- established recipes, all house secrets, each based on at least five or six origins. The tastes vary widely from the most delicate and refined to the heartiest espresso. With the exception of Gran Miscella Colombo, in keeping with Italian tradition, all the blends are varying mixes of particular Robustas and Arabicas, although the roasting and blending art is such that the edge between the two, in what I tasted, never surfaced.

Behind the main building, a fleet of some 20 white delivery vans are lined up, waiting for their cargoes of freshly roasted Bei & Nannini coffees. More than 80% of the company’s business is to bars, cafés, restaurants and hotels. This means sourcing fresh roasted coffee on a daily basis to a market area that extends throughout Tuscany and down to Rome. Abroad, the company has exports to Paris, London, Scotland, Luxembourg, Austria, Greece and Poland.

Beyond the fleet of vans is the roasting plant. At the entrance is a fully operational and smartly decorated espresso bar room for hosting clients. It is complete with one of Italy’s most accomplished barristas-Silvano Forli. Silvano has worked for Bei & Nannini for 53 years, but never behind the bar until recently. For most of that time he was the master roaster. In his head are all the company recipes, and from these secrets and his art have come countless tons of coffee in the finest Italian tradition.

Silvano’s son, Lorenzo Forli, was his apprentice for many years, and now continues the same tradition. “We usually roast four days a week,” says Lorenzo. “We run two 240 kilo batch roasters-one for Arabicas, the other for the Robusta. Minimum roasting time is 15 minutes, somewhat more for some origins. We roast origins separately, then age them for four days in the silos before blending and packaging. Most of the production is in whole beans. We’ve just installed a new Goglio line for that.”

According to Lorenzo, he gets about 200 kilos of roasted coffee on average from each batch, a little more from the Robusta, a little less from the Arabica. “We make sure the green coffee is what we need. Then the roasting is like molding a clay pot in your hands. It’s something you put all your attention to, constantly looking at the color, checking the smell, listening to the beans. Every batch could be different, but my job is to shape the process so that there are no differences.

“I must be very careful, my father is up front tasting everything I do,” he says with a laugh. “He’s a very tough critic.”

Lucca is famed for its textiles-fine velvets and damasks-and for handmade pens, the finest in the world. Perhaps it should also be famous for coffee.


Tea & Coffee - September/October 2000
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