Morettino is growing coffee in Sicily, far outside the region that normally produces coffee for the world. What does this mean for the industry?
Coffee is most economically productive in the coffee belt, aka the tropics.
Northern-most boundary: Tropic of Cancer at 23.5°N
Southern-most boundary: Tropic of Capricorn at 23.5°S
Climate of Palermo
In Palermo, the capital of Sicily, the climate is Mediterranean with very mild, quite rainy winters and hot, sunny summers. The city is located on the northern coast of Sicily, in an area exposed to the cool mistral wind that blows from Sardinia, but also to the sirocco.
The sirocco, the wind from Africa, is able to raise the temperature by several degrees: it can exceed 20 °C (68 °F) in winter, and can reach or exceed 40 °C (104 °F) in summer.
- The average temperature ranges from 12.2 °C (54 °F) in February to 26.8 °C (80.2 °F) in August.
- Rainfall amounts to 615 millimeters (24 inches) per year, with a maximum in autumn and winter and a minimum in summer, when it hardly ever rains.
…compared to Medan, Sumatra, Indonesia:
- average temperature of the coldest month (December) is of 27.0 °C (80.6 °F), that of the warmest month (May) is of 28.5 °C (83.3 °F).
- precipitation amounts to 2030 millimeters (79.9 inches) per year
This is the weekly coffee report from oil slick coffee. Each week, I find a few coffee stories that peak my interest and discuss how it makes sense of the story. In the previous episode, we looked at global coffee auctions and how they might benefit small holder farmers. This week, we take a look at coffee production happening in geographical locations, radically outside the norms for coffee.
The articles I’m discussing are titled Breaking New Ground: A Sicilian Coffee Plantation, Parts One and Two, both by Joseph Phelan and published respectively, January 18th and 19th, 2023 in Barista Magazine.
The plantation was established by Morettino, a coffee company in Northern Sicily. Some quick bullet points from the article. Morettino is a well-established coffee brand in Sicily. In 2020, the roastery celebrated its 100th anniversary. The Morettino experimental coffee plantation is widely considered to be the most northerly coffee plantation in the world. And the only one in Europe. And in 2021, they harvested their first coffee batch.
Now let’s first look at where coffee is traditionally cultivated and that’s the coffee belt. Coffee belt is basically the tropics, the area of the globe between the Tropic of Cancer at 23.5 degrees north and the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.5 degrees south.
One of the key factors that attribute to the quality of a green coffee is the climate in which it was grown. It is generally accepted that latitude and elevation play key roles in suitability of the climate for economically viable coffee production. I’m going to focus on economically viable in these discussions because you can of course grow coffee at lower elevations and at higher latitudes. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to economic. It’s going to produce fruit at an economic level at a level that you could actually sell the fruit.
Now at higher elevations, the plant generally produces better quality fruit. And this is normally attributed to lower temperatures and more intense UV radiation.(Wintgens, 2012) So that’s how we traditionally understand the physical boundaries of quality coffee production; high elevations located in the tropics.
The Morettino experimental plantation is located near Palermo, Sicily, roughly 38 degrees north and that’s a thousand miles north of the Tropic of Cancer and roughly 200 miles further north than Frinj Coffee, which is located near Santa Barbara, California or 34 degrees north.
In the article, Andrea Morettino describes the experimental plantation and how it got started. I’ll now read a bit from the article and forgive my poor pronunciation of Italian names and words.
"The first experimental plantation was located in the historical family, roastery gardens in the small village of San Lorenzo ai Colli in Palermo, 350 meters above sea level. The original seeds came from the botanical garden of Palermo. One of the most significant tropical gardens in Europe.
"And the beautiful historical greenhouse, Serra Carolina, you can still see the oldest Arabica coffee plants that were introduced in Europe at the end of the 1800s."
So how is Morettino able to cultivate coffee at both lower altitude and higher latitude than is normally done? Again, a quote from the article in which the author says:
"The family has long held the theory that given time to act… aclimatize coffee plants have the capability to thrive in Sicily.
"The resilience and patience coupled with the fact that climate change is gradually making the Sicilian environment more tropical have now started to reap rewards. Growing coffee in Sicily is now no longer, just a dream. It is a viable, tangible reality.
Why is this important? Innovations in coffee production, such as this can expand our understanding of the coffee plant and how we can manipulate it in sustainably produced coffee. Exploration of plant breeds, capable of economic production can help expand the repertoire of plants available to farmers everywhere.
Experiments such as Morettino’s in Sicily and Frinj Coffee’s in California can help inform projects aimed at expanding the genetic diversity of cultivated coffee, such as projects, driven by World Coffee Research. That of course is dependent on the company sharing information and working with the research community.
So the big question is what does coffee grown in Sicily tastes like? Well, the second article in the series gives us a little teaser. This is another quote from Andrea Morettino:
"It is a very high quality coffee with special and unique fragrances, such as notes of Zibibbo grapes and the sweet smells of jasmine and white plumeria flowers that are typical of Sicily.
"It is also possible to detect carob, caramel, and roasted Sicilian almonds, as well as Panela sugar, which is more typical of the tropics."
That sounds pretty good. And it’s definitely something to look forward to.
I have provided a list of references and links to useful content in the show notes. So if you’re interested, check those out and I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for updates on Morettino’s project.
Thank you for listening and stay tuned to radio free coffee.
- Wintgens, J. N. (Ed.). (2012). Coffee: Growing, Processing, Sustainable Production. Wiley-VCH.