Following last year’s success at the Milan Expo, where it reached over 3 million visitors, the Trieste Coffee Cluster, partnered by Illycaffe, is set to make another international appearance at the TriestEspresso coffee fair this 20 to 22nd of October. Its eighth edition has been organised by Trieste’s Chamber of Commerce and the Coffee Association of Trieste with the aim of stimulating the region’s coffee commerce and foreign investments. The biennial exposition has attracted over 200 leading businesses and thousands of professionals from the coffee sector, after its world wide promotional tour in Moscow, Shanghai, Krakow, Dublin and New York – where the event was inaugurated at the exclusive Eataly restaurant.

The port city of Trieste is regarded as one of the most important trading locations in Europe, and the culture of coffee is deeply entrenched in its history. Trieste is not only the hub of Illycaffe, but as the figures show, close to 30% of Italy’s imported coffee is excised and passed through the province. The ‘Coffee District’ in Trieste concentrates close to 50 companies, with a workforce of 900 individuals, and it generates close to half a billion euros of revenue each year. The production chain involved in coffee-making is a highly specialised one, from logistics to the selection of the primary material, roasting, decaffeination, publishing and so on, all of which is done within the cluster.

The level of productivity and research that characterises the coffee cluster is therefore unique, although the region aims to expand its horizons further by becoming a global centre for research and production of the bean – a ‘Coffee Valley’ of sorts. The Coffee University, located in Trieste and with branches in over 20 countries, is a great example of trying to expand Italian-made coffee culture through professional training, marketing, and bio-chemical research to develop sustainable solutions for an agri-business in need of alternative production methods.

As of 2014, the District has fostered a collaboration with the University of Udine’s BluComb, a project designed to convert used ground coffee into pellets that can be used to produce biomass which can generate twice as much energy output as the burning of wood. Due to the district’s sheer size it has been noted by Costanza Zavalloni, former Professor of Agriculture at Udine University, that approximately 2 tonnes of coffee grounds are produced in Trieste alone, and it is an opportunity that can be capitalised on. This idea is also being implemented by OltreCafe’, a pioneer company based in Modena (winner of the “Intraprendere a Modena Prize” for social responsibility), that aims to produce the first fully Italian and fully coffee-based pellets to create renewable energy. The concept is to try to fully close production cycles in a way that coffee is 100% recycled, which can help other vendors considerably reduce their ecological footprint.

Through this lens, it is also worth noting that Terranova Papers, a global exporter of ecological filter papers, will also be present at the fair. Their environmentally-certified product is used by companies such as the Ravenna-based Cartha (also an exhibitor) to produce coffee bags made of micro-processed Abaca plants and water as alternatives to traditional capsules.

TriestEspresso is therefore a great occasion to strengthen the cohesion of the Italian brand identity as a whole, reinvigorate the region’s historic and cultural value, and extend commercial partnerships with neighbouring countries. It would be equally encouraging to see systemic and collective change taking place not only at the level of brand exposure, quality and diversity, but also at the level of sustainability, to stabilise the extraction of the raw material – especially since it is one often susceptible to price volatility. The coffee industry has significant challenges to face in the future, and it is essential now, more than ever, that major players join forces to render crop yields more efficient and invest in a new generation of environmentally-conscious farmers to lessen price absorption costs deriving from potential shocks.  The means and the interest to pursue such a route is there – which is being in part promoted through Illy’s incentive programs in Brazil and investment on research incubators – and the step now is to discuss and implement. It would admirable if Trieste’s Cluster could lead the way.