Really Good Coffee in Seattle Was Torrefazione in 1990

In 1990, Torrefazione was synonymous with really good coffee in Seattle.

In particular, it was the old Perugia blend that was the biggie. I used to love that coffee. Smooth and sweet on the front end, a snap on the back end with a great finish and after taste.

Perugia was not only really good coffee, it was excellent.

When I first moved to Seattle in 1990, I had not yet acquired a taste for a good doppio. That development was still a couple of years out and when I opened my espresso bar, I chose to use Torrefazione Italia, Perugia blend as my house espresso blend. Although I had not learned the palate nuances in espresso at that point in time, I loved Perugia every time I drank it.

Only there was a problem…

Torrefazione Italia was the ultimate coffee snob as far as wholesale coffee went. At least that was what it seemed like from my perspective and in my personal experience as a retail operator in the espresso business.Torrefazione had become the only game in town and they knew it – in terms of quality – and the company itself had developed an attitude towards newcomers in the business.

The specialty coffee business in 1990 was a very political WHO KNOWS WHO “micro-niche” that was hugely profitable and successful. And in retrospect, Seattle itself was that way when it came to outsiders. Second and third generation money was acceptable – not broke newbie entrepreneurs with lots of drive and creativity and no contacts.

When I took over an existing shop that had been run into the ground by an incompetent operator, it was hard to get a return call from Torrefazione – much less a visit from a sales rep. So after numerous attempts to place an order and speak with a rep, I finally gave up and called SBC.

As I have matured and live in a completely different business environment than the one that existed in Seattle, I have often wondered if I would have developed a personal friendship with Umberto Bizzari – the founder and original roaster of Torrefazione Italia – given the opportunity.

I think so because of my passion for coffee and ultimately a very defined and developed palate. It occurs to me occasionally (when I ponder the past) that Umberto would have appreciated my understanding and love of coffee and would have mentored me because of it – in some capacity. He also would have grown to know how much I admired his expertise as a coffee man and roaster.

The specialty coffee world in Seattle subsequently shrank, contorted, shifted, expanded and was in an overall state of flux for a number of years while I played coffee there. Starbucks emerged as a marketing powerhouse who tipped the odds in the coffee card game.

After Umberto quit roasting for Torrefazione, the coffee was never the same. It must have been difficult for him – on some level – to watch his brand and quality deteriorate. It certainly was for me.

In the mid 80’s Umberto Bizzari and Jim Stewart (the founder of SBC – formerly Stewart Bros coffee) formed a mini Puget Sound coffee conglomerate and later made a bunch of money and spun off various labels to P and G for the retail grocery distribution business and ultimately sold the Torrefazione label to Starbucks.

In the chain of events that followed, Unberto’s son Emanuele Bizarri started his own espresso business Cafe Umbria – with the anchor store in the very same location as his father’s original Torrefazione location.

Fondly and with respect, I will always remember and savor (in my mind) the wonderful flavors of the original Perugia and Torrfazione Italia.

I AM Michael Barrett and I Love Really Good Coffee

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