Interview with Maurizio Valli

by Simone Forgia, Claudio Santoro

Maurizio Valli - Bugan Coffee Lab

Hi Maurizio, please introduce yourself briefly and explain how you got in to the world of coffee.

My name is Maurizio Valli, I am 40 years old, I am from Bergamo and I opened my coffee shop in 2000. I chose to delve into the world of coffee when I realised that I didn't know what I was selling from behind the counter. At that time, I was fed up with the sellers who kept offering me new coffee brands with amazing offers, without knowing their product, so I decided to go to the first coffee courses. That's where my journey into the culture and sharing of this extraordinary primary ingredient came from.

What led you to open the first coffee laboratory in Italy? Would you ever go back if you could?

My life changed dramatically when, in 2012, I made my last competition in the Italian barista championship, finishing fourth. In that event I brought a coffee from Panama and at the end of the competition a lady from the public approached me and, excited by my choice, told me that she was the representative of Panamanian coffee in Italy. After 15 days, thanks to that lady whom I didn't even know well, I thoughtlessly took the plane and made my first trip to a plantation. I had gone to discover what real coffee was and what a drupe was. So I arrived in Panama where I stayed for 15 days, living in the plantation and harvesting coffee. From that trip, my life took an incredible turn. I came back home with a huge amount of energy and I was finally aware of what was behind the coffee. At that time, almost no barista had visited and worked in a coffee plantation and so from there I had the idea to open the first Italian laboratory. A place that spoke only one language: quality and culture in the world of coffee.

It was 2014, when the Bugan Coffee Lab opened. This laboratory is divided into four locations. The first is the coffee shop, where people can try the various brewing methods. The second is dedicated to the tasting, where there is a cupping table. The third is the heart of the place where there is the roaster and finally the fourth is the academy where we convey all our love and passion to our students.

If I had to go back I would not change anything. I am very proud and passing on my knowledge is the thing that makes me happy the most.

Why did you choose the name Bugan?

I chose the name Bugan because I'm passionate about flowers, fruits and vegetables. At the beginning of 2000, the use of the name of a flower for bars was very popular and my favourite flower is the Bougainvillea (Buganvillea in Italian). So I called my coffee shop Buganvillea Cafè. All the customers that came to me, however, used to say, "Let's go to the Bugan and have an espresso". They used to cut the name off and so we decided to call all the places Bugan, including: the bakery, the laboratory, the roastery and the coffee shop.

How has the specialty coffee sector changed since you first discovered it?

The world of specialty coffee has changed in an incredible way. When I opened the Bugan Coffee Lab in 2014 it was very tough because, making people understand my concept was not that obvious. The most difficult thing was to make people understand that acidity could be a virtue, while, the bitterness of burnt could be a defect. Socials now help us to spread the word and customers are already coming in with a completely different mindset. When it comes to specialty coffee, not everyone already knows what it is, but they have already heard the word specialty. Nowadays the customer is curious and puts us in an easier position for explaining and describing.

How would you like the world of coffee to evolve?

I like the world of coffee as it is now very much. Growth and culture must be a journey. I have 20 years of experience in this field; it's a very long time, but, I still have a lot to go into. Sometimes I think that my age can also be a source of a certain kind of laziness. There are topics that interest me and I go deeper into them while there are others that I tell myself I will deal with later, over time. I want to live a journey and people have to live it with me. This is what leads you to get excited, to love and get crazy passionate about this world. That's why I don't want a radical change, it has to be a pathway for everyone.

How has your understanding of coffee evolved from barista to SCA judge? 

My career evolved when I approached the world of competitions. There the sharing with other baristas led me to an incredible growth. I am of the opinion that a barista must approach competitions to win, but also because it leads you to exchange ideas, thoughts and innovations in this world. I became a judge after 15 years and so this was also a path that completed me and led me to see the world of competitions from the other side. Obviously being a judge is a big responsibility. I try to be as objective as possible, but also subjective when necessary. We all know each other in this world and the task of a judge is to be correct in front of a cup of espresso or cappuccino. As a judge you have the responsibility to make the barista grow with your judgment and, therefore you have to give him constructive advice, to help him improve by saying, " Well done!" when he is going in the right direction.

What changes have you started to plan because of Covid19?

We're already thinking about some changes to the shop to make sure there are as few assemblies as possible, but mostly to make sure there's a take-away service, an idea I really like. We're already studying innovations in terms of materials as well, so everyone will probably bring their own cup. I'll try to keep the place cleaner, although it was already very clean before, but I think this is at the basis of a professional barista. Therefore, I think there's really little to change if you were already professional before.

I'll probably also try to pamper the end consumer more; I'll push the website even further, to avoid as much contact as possible, providing more security to the consumer and also to myself. Then I think that when we open, we will really understand what we have to do. For now, these are just ideas.

I'm also thinking about a delivery service, on-demand, just like our coffee grinders. I'd like to go underneath the houses, out on the streets to perform and spread my passion.

Maurizio Valli with a Marzocco Leva in his Coffee Lab in Bergamo
Maurizio Valli with a Marzocco Leva in his Coffee Lab in Bergamo

In your Coffee Lab you have a Marzocco Leva. What made you choose it? What are the main advantages?

I am a huge fan of lever machines and I think it is a stunning model. Each extraction has a potential of changes in pre-infusion pressure, extraction pressure, water temperature, water flow, etc. There are an infinite number of things that can be done and therefore it is a machine that already has incredible potential.

I fell in love because it is a machine that puts you in difficulty and where there is difficulty I go crazy with joy. It gives me the chance to improve myself more and more. It makes me understand that by changing a simple parameter from one extraction to another, it completely changes the espressos as well, and this makes me understand how vast the world of coffee is.

It also gives me concreteness regarding the quality of the beans. It allows me to highlight the differences, it reflects the naturalness of the raw material. That is why I am a lover of the lever.

I also love it because it enhances the flavours. I love flavours, even if sometimes they can compromise the body, but for me the body is not an index of quality, it's not something I necessarily look for. Sometimes there is body and sometimes there isn't. I think it's a bit like in the world of wine; there are more structured wines and less structured wines. Let's take the example of Pinot Noir and Amarone; two completely different grape varieties. Amarone is structured, while Pinot Noir is not, but it has incredible nuances. The lever allows you to perceive coffees differently, more clearly than machines that work in other ways. For me the lever means diversity, to feel the differences, not only from the country, but also from the botanical variety itself.

If you could improve something to the Marzocco Leva, what would it be?

Certainly the price; 23,000 euros is a lot and obviously it is quite prohibitive. Joking aside, I don't know what I would improve, it's already perfect as it is.

I wouldn't recommend it to a bar that makes quantity, but to a bar that makes quality I would always place it. For now, it's the machine I love the most; I've fallen in love with it and for the moment I can't find another machine that matches it.

I am even buying the Leva one group and I have already proposed to make the Modbar Leva. I hope it is an experiment that Marzocco wants to do because it would be something incredible. I call espresso machines coffins, because they cover the view of the extraction; with the Modbar instead, you can see what the barista is doing. Wow! 

A big greeting to everybody, Maurizio.