Interview with Lisa Zancanella of Combi Coffee Co.


We had a chat with Lisa Zancanella, Barista from Combi Coffee to discuss her coffee career and the Porto specialty coffee scene. Read on to get familiar with the Portuguese coffee scene ahead of our upcoming Barista Camp in Evora.

How long have you worked in coffee? What's your story?
I started with coffee when I was 19 years old, 3 years ago. Before that, I was a professional dancer but at 19 I got an injury and after coming back to Italy I simply started to work in a cafe and I immediately fell in love with the sensorial part of the coffee. I started to take SCA courses and do some competition with the International Institute of Coffee Taster. Italy didn’t give me enough challenges, so I decided to move: my heart belongs to the Berlin coffee scene but while I was on holiday in August 2017 in Porto (my first time in Portugal!) I just had a talk with the guys of Combi Coffee Roasters, and I ended up for moving 2 weeks later to work with them. Here I immediately started organizing monthly coffee cuppings, sharing our research on quality without any compromises and desire of changing how things have been set up for years, developing new ideas and projects. 


What is the Porto specialty coffee scene like? Have you seen it grow in the past few years?
Porto specialty coffee literally started on September 2017: with us also other few coffee shop/ roastery opened. It has been hard as the Portuguese people (like Italians) have a strong coffee culture made by dark roasted Robusta, so has been a beautiful challenge to introduce them to the specialty’s world of flavor and origins. This is why organizing our monthly cuppings has been our first idea: every month we are welcoming a lot of Portuguese people but mostly tourists from abroad with already a great culture of Specialty Coffee. We can’t impose our approach, we just want to show them that there is another way to think about coffee, making it interesting: luckily the Portuguese are very curious and open!


What does the future of specialty coffee in Porto hold? 
In this year more coffee shops and roasters have opened, now we are around 10, thanks to the big wave of tourists very interested in specialty coffee. The risks lie in not taking the specialty coffee element of opening a cafe seriously – those who do that will fail. Our approach is different, we don’t want to lower the quality level and we are focused on the sensorial part and the relationship with the farmers and origin countries more than branding or marketing. For Porto there is a big future I think, it is a very open-minded city always answering positively to new input.


What are your ambitions? 
I want to work directly with the farmers and try to improve their conditions in a concrete and real way. For now, the best I can do is to organize these events like this first one in September, we will have another one in the following months about the situation of the women in the farms, with other associations. I want to change how things have been set up and try to make people aware of the faces and the stories behind the 18gr of coffee we serve them in the cup. 

I want to go finally to an origin country in the following months and for the future, I would definitely find a way to work more there. I want to dream big, I’m sure we can change things if we really do our best and try different approaches, but we have to act. 


You’re hosting a new coffee festival this year - tell us about that? 
On 8th of September, we have organized an international event with different panels of discussion and several cuppings, about Sustainability, Transparency and the reality of the coffee farmers. We don’t want to portray the fairytale of roasters who go to farms and play at Indiana Jones. We want to show people what’s behind a package of coffee, the faces working for that 18gr we are putting in their cups, we want to be honest and shake a bit. We want to present different approaches and prospectives, ideological but also geographic and cultural. 

The speakers that will join us are: Klaus Thomsen from Coffee Collective, Michal Molčan from Standart Mag and Alejandro Cadena from Caravela Coffee 

Last but not least: we constantly feel that speaking is not really enough, we need to do something more active and immediate so we will devolve the money charged for the entrance to Long Miles Coffee Project of Ben and Kristy Carlson, supporting the Trees for Kibiri Project in Burundi. 


Why should we come to Porto? 
You should come because it would be easy to go to Berlin or London, where Specialty coffee is a culture and has been improved for years. Coming to Porto is a challenge, nothing is sure and everything is new, every goal we achieved, every person who came to our cuppings, is already a victory for us, what seems small and not relevant for the others in Porto is something to be proud of. We started from zero and we have the opportunity to start directly with quality. 


What’s your local recommendation to Barista Camp attendees? 
You should definitely visit both Lisbon and Porto: they are totally different cities, especially for coffee, Porto is more personal, you can feel the dedication of the people working there and because the coffee scene is only young it is already looking for great innovations and new developments. 


Join us at Barista Camp Portugal 3 - 6 September 2018. Register here.

SCA Communications