An interview with Johan Pesenti, founder of Brooklyn’s Coperaco Coffee Co.
De’Longhi believes a quality cup of coffee originates from the care taken in every step, starting from the farm and ending in your cup. In this multi-episode series, we will bring you closer to the people deeply involved in the coffee value chain, including conscious farmers, innovative roasters, and world-class baristas. Welcome to the Chronicles of a Coffee Aficionado.
In our first episode, we will be talking to Johan Pesenti, the founder of Coperaco Coffee Co., a micro-roaster based in Brooklyn, New York. Since opening in 2014, Coperaco has expanded its clientele to include some of New York City’s finest restaurants and hotels, as well as developed a second coffee brand known as Stone Street, which is today one of the best-selling coffee brands on Amazon’s marketplace. The New York-based roaster approaches coffee roasting from a culinary perspective by masterfully combining taste notes to create unique flavor experiences, and has crafted coffee blends for respected chefs such as Eric Ripert and Geoffrey Zakarian. It’s Coperaco’s commitment to roasting nuanced and flavorful blends that led to an organic partnership with De’Longhi, and the creation of De’Longhi’s Signature Espresso Blend. Made to achieve a full-bodied extraction using De’Longhi machines, this one-of-a-kind coffee blend combines taste notes from beans grown across the globe, including chocolate notes from Guatemala, citrus notes from Ethiopia, walnut from Brazil, and caramel from Colombia.
Coperaco now distributes, roasts, and blends various coffees from 35 countries worldwide.
JOHAN: My passion has always been agriculture. It became part of my DNA while growing up on a farm in the south of France. My only daytime activity, besides going to school, was helping my grandfather on the land to harvest cherries or tomatoes when it was the season. This is why I love produce, but as a child, you don’t realize how passionate you are about something until later.
In my beautiful small village of Saint-Quentin-La-Poterie, my dad owned the only coffee shop in town. In Provence, the local coffee shop is somewhat of the “center” of the village, so every Saturday afternoon (when my dad would take his nap), I would be behind the counter as the barista. This brought that hospitality aspect to my upbringing as well.
When I moved to New York to study, I was working in the culinary world as a barista. This was around 2006-2007, and, at that time, there weren’t many coffee shops in New York. This was pre-Third Wave. So once I finished school, I realized I wanted to discover more about coffee farming and found myself with a one-way ticket to Nicaragua in January 2010.
JOHAN: Today’s coffee industry is massive. Now more than ever, we have so many options to choose from. From a roaster’s point of view, there are both so many variations of beans to use and new methods for crafting coffee. It has evolved to a level that is unprecedented. For example, you can buy directly from a coffee farm or subscribe to roasters that deliver beans to your home. You can have capsule cold brew makers or fully-automatic espresso machines. So the industry is extremely diversified.
However, access to high-quality equipment and coffee is not equal worldwide. You will find extremely high-quality equipment in homes in North America, Europe, and parts of Asia. But the same cannot be said for certain regions of Europe, Africa, or Latin America.
JOHAN: My approach to coffee, especially to espresso, is very specific. I look for the ‘roundness' of the product’s flavor and its overall aroma. For me, a beautiful coffee has a balance between acidity and bitterness, with notes of toasted almond and light touches of chocolate. After 5 minutes, I should notice the coffee’s wonderful aftertaste. That to me is the perfect espresso.
I call this the Mediterranean approach: roundness in flavor with a complex and long-lasting finish. My go-to is usually a medium-dark roast.
JOHAN: I think these programs are wonderful and do lots of good. However, coffee today has more than 32 certifications, which could be a bit confusing or overwhelming for the consumer. They might not know exactly what each certification stands for, and, unfortunately, these certifications can be seen as stamps on a bag that help drive revenue. So the question is: do they really help carry out the mission of bringing awareness to the problems within the coffee industry? I’m not sure. The situation appears to be far more complex.
During my 2010 coffee tour of Latin America back, I wanted to study how coffee was sourced before it arrived at the port for export. I was fortunate enough to go to places like Nicaragua, Honduras, and Brazil to follow certification procedures. When I shadowed inspectors on the farms, I was very happy to see the amount of care and attention to detail involved in the certification process. It gave me hope that there are good people in the farming world.
JOHAN: I used to sit down with chefs and spend hours trying to understand what they’re looking for. But two years ago, I decided that I am the coffee chef and that I know my industry. I have so much respect for chefs, but I wanted to say, “Let me cook for you. Let me play with my flavors.”
Now, I sit down with chefs and offer them my formula. I always start with the same base component. I call it my “olive oil” because my grandmother’s cooking always starts with that. My olive oil is coffee from Brazil’s Minas Gerais region because I know I’m going to get the body and crema that I’m looking for. After that, it’s all a matter of adding some chocolate or fruit to the mix. I then present the first coffee to the chef or their team, and we’ll get feedback on what taste notes can be added.
JOHAN: At Coperaco, we have been very consistent with our standard house blend, meanwhile creating a lot of single-origin batches or unique blends as well. But offering a consistent product to the consumer has always been very important to me.
In our other businesses, like Stone Street, we have a very large presence in e-commerce. By doing so, we are able to understand the frequency of orders, but also the type of coffee a consumer likes. Because we have access to this information, we have an idea of what our next move should be in regards to taste.
We originally thought that Amazon would remain the largest stakeholder in the e-commerce department, simply because you could have coffee delivered to your door the next day. But one competitive advantage we discovered about ordering directly from a roaster’s site is freshness. You get coffee straight from the roaster, and coffee drinkers who are becoming more educated on coffee roasting understand the importance of freshness.
When I was working as a barista during my studies, I wanted to learn more about coffee. Now our operation in Brooklyn is no longer a mom-and-pop shop. We operate the largest coffee company in New York City, and Coperaco’s culinary approach to roasting has helped us establish long-lasting relationships with Michelin-star chefs and brands like De’Longhi.