After scooping the coveted Best New Roastery award at the prestigious FNB Coffee Magazine gala event recently, Dario Scilipoti is on a mission to connect people and create a coffee-appreciative community one heavenly sip at a time.
Admittedly Dario was a late-starter when it came to coffee.
“I hated coffee. The only time I would have a cup was so I could dunk a rusk in it. Once I’d finished the rusks I threw out the coffee!”
Had it not been for one of his best friends, Dario’s coffee adventure may never have happened. “One night he forced me to try a Turkish coffee … not the best way to introduce someone to coffee! But far from being turned off by the dark, bitter sludgy drink, Dario loved it and his fascination with the whole brewing process was lit.
“After that he dragged me off to a few coffee cafes and we drank cups of good coffee … I was hooked!”
It wasn’t long before Dario’s interest turned into a passion bordering an obsession. His quest for knowledge took him down the proverbial rabbit hole. “The more I learnt, the more I realized how much more there was to learn!”
When a home barista friend gave him a bag of coffee beans he had roasted at home, Dario couldn’t wait to try roasting for himself. He bought a small roaster and began experimenting … three months later he ordered a bigger roastery. His growing knowledge, coupled with his own roasting experiences and a developing palate able to pick out the hidden nuances in every blend, gave him just enough confidence to turn what was a passion project into a business. With the support of his wife, family and friends, Bluebird Coffee Roastery was born and the couple began hosting barista evenings at their Westville home, introducing locals to their own speciality coffee and collecting a base of diehard customers along the way.
No one was more surprised by Dario’s sudden interest in coffee than his high school sweetheart-wife, Alexis, who ruefully admits that she’s not much of a coffee drinker herself. “Dario has to cajole me into trying a new coffee or blend he’s discovered,” she says, still somewhat bemused at how quickly his coffee hobby has blossomed into a developing business.
The couple met at Thomas More College …”I took her to her 16th birthday party! They’ve been together ever since. In June this year, they welcomed a daughter, Liliana to the family. It was love at first sight and it’s safe to say that mom and dad are smitten!
Baby Liliana is destined to forever be part of a coffee dynasty. In celebration of her arrival, Dario sourced one of the best coffees he’s ever tasted, a Geisha Natural from Costa Rica. “It has flavor notes of jasmine and mandarin, which makes it sweet and juicy in taste,” he explained, adding that the Liliana coffee was sold in a specially designed package to commemorate the occasion. And while on the subject of packaging, Dario and Alexis are conscious eco-warriors and ensure that the roastery’s packaging is eco-friendly and poses no harm to the environment.
While taste reigns supreme when it comes to choosing the speciality coffees he shares with his customers, Dario has also adopted a strong ethical approach to the coffee beans he purchases from countries that include Guatamala, Kenya, Ethiopia and Burundi. In Costa Rica he trades directly with farmer Alejo Castro from the farm Volcan Azu.
“I’ve learnt a lot about fair trade – making sure that the farmers get what is due to them. I believe that every day, in our individual lives and careers, we make decisions which either harm or help. In every step I take in growing our company, I aim to make the often hard (read expensive) but correct decisions which are better for people, the environment, quality and then profit. That is why we buy the coffees we do in the way that we do – generously, with line of sight to the farms and producers and with the intention of building long term, meaningful relationships and we look forward to buying micro lots from them year after year.
Coffee, Dario explains, is a lot like wine. Its taste has a lot to do with the region and the farm. Climate, soil, altitude and the way it was harvested and dried all play equal role to determining its eventual taste. In full coffee-geek mode he launches into an explanation of how coffee is graded, rattling off the importance of flavour, aroma, how the coffee feels in the mouth, the balance of flavours, sweetness and acidity. He talks of its fruity nuances that leave hints of marmalade, cherries, strawberries, guava and even croissants … yes, you read that right. A coffee that tastes like croissants … sign me up for a bag, that’s my idea of a heavenly cup!
Watching him make coffee is akin to watching a carefully choreographed sequence. It’s so much more than switching the kettle on … there’s a scale to measure the exact amount of freshly ground coffee, (not a grain over or under), boiled filter water at just the right temperature, and the exact amount of water to coffee ratio, all this and an AeroPress (a French Press works equally well), add the perfect brewing time – down to the last second – and there you have it. The perfect cup, freshly ground and patiently brewed … and of course Dario’s own healthy serving of love and passion! It’s enough to convert anyone from instant coffee to freshly ground.
“Coffee is beautiful. Whether connecting with friends at a cafe, caffeinating a long day at the office or the creative hobby of the home barista, it plays a major role in our day to day.”
“My goal is to help our customers understand it better, give them access to quality coffee normally only sold abroad and to connect them to the people who farmed and produced it. “
Keep up with what’s brewing at Bluebird Coffee Roastery by following them on Facebook and Instagram and watch out for exciting future developments including barista evenings and trendy coffee pairings.
Bluebird Coffee is available online at www.bluebirdcoffeeroastery.co.za. You’ll also find it at Talkhouse in Westville, the City Roast Caravan, Barn Owl in Florida Road, Salt Rock Coffee Company and Bench Coffee Company. It is also available at Hillcrest Kwikspar.