Carlo Barbi, CEO of Club House, explains how adopting a flexible approach to manufacturing has elevated the family business to new heights, and why porcelain cups enhance a coffee’s flavour.
When it comes to flavour attributes of coffee, variety, terroir, roast profile, blending, and brewing technique are some of the common influences. However, the vessel that the coffee is served in is often an afterthought.
Vessels in the coffee industry have come under the spotlight recently, with an industry-wide push for sustainability leading to growing scrutiny on single-use takeaway cups. Porcelain cups, however, have been a staple in foodservice for decades.
According to Carlo Barbi, CEO of Club House, this is no coincidence, due to their influence on coffee’s flavour and aroma.
“The International Institute of Coffee Tasters has found that porcelain traps the coffee’s aroma and maintains the drink at the best temperature to optimise its flavour,” Carlo says.
“In Italy we don’t traditionally use paper cups. Porcelain is always considered the best way to serve a coffee.”
Carlo says there are many advantages of serving coffee out of a porcelain cup that you don’t get from plastic or glassware.
“To start with, it is a very good conductor of temperature. It’s important to heat the cup to somewhere between 50 to 60°C which can be achieved by putting the cups on top of an espresso machine,” Carlo says. “This means when you pour your coffee, which is hotter, it cools to around 60 to 65°C. Once the coffee and cup reach the same temperature, it remains stable for a few minutes for the consumer to enjoy.”
While a cup’s temperature impacts the coffee inside, its shape also plays a role. Carlo says espresso should be served in a 70-cubic-centimetre cup. A 25-cubic- centimetre espresso shot fills the cup, and about 40 to 45 cubic centimetres remains empty.
“This means the drink is visually pleasing as it has a good visual balance. More importantly, though, the aroma becomes trapped inside the cup. If you serve an espresso in a cup that’s completely filled up, then the aroma will fade before the customer drinks it,” Carlo says.
“The interior shape is also as important. An oval shape at the bottom of the cup guarantees the fluids circulate correctly during coffee pouring, creating a nice distribution of the crema.”
In addition to influencing the taste, porcelain’s propensity to conduct heat and withstand thermal shock makes it ideal for use in the hospitality industry. Carlo says cups that are going through constant cleaning cycles need a high level of thermal resistance or the rapid change in temperature can cause damage.
“Our products are extremely cost- efficient for cafés as they rarely need to be replaced. Our cups can withstand temperature changes of 200°C,” Carlo says. “Porcelain also has an extremely low absorption rate, so liquid doesn’t filter inside. This also makes it extremely good from a hygienic point of view. Our cups can be washed thoroughly without being damaged as the water doesn’t seep in.”
According to the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) porcelain is extremely dense and absorbs less than 0.5 per cent of moisture in encounters. ANSI classifies it as impervious, which is why it is used in bathroom, shower, and tableware designs.
While porcelain as a ceramic material provides many benefits in foodservice, Club House sees flexibility and design as its main points of difference.
Carlo took over as CEO of Club House from his father in 2003, who started the company in 1992.
“When we began to target the coffee industry about 25 years ago, we started from nothing. We had to create a unique selling point as at the time, there were already a few producers in Europe,” Carlo says. “The key thing we realised was how limited most catalogues were. Customers were only able to choose from very few shapes of cups. Evolving the business to be flexible was a large part of our success.”
The business originally produced porcelain, wooden, and stainless-steel products for department stores but, over time, narrowed its expertise to focus on porcelain coffee cups.
“The department store business stagnated, but once my father started working with Lavazza, he saw a huge opportunity in the coffee industry. He decided to stop focusing on other products and concentrate fully on porcelain cups,” Carlo says.
Since making the decision to concentrate exclusively on the coffee industry, Club House has grown exponentially. It now produces more than eight million pieces of porcelain per year and exports its cups to more than 40 countries, including Australia.
Club House’s cups are produced exclusively in China, at a single facility which the company has been working with for more than 20 years and operating under Club House’s management.
While a majority of the process is automated, Carlo says it’s important to have elements of the assembly chain that remain manual. This allows smaller quantities and customisable options to be created on demand.
“When we started, the norm was for manufacturers to have maybe 20 styles and shapes of cups – we have more than 500 now. Every item we create has a different mould and we have the expertise to develop a new shape or design very easily,” Carlo says.
“For some other producers who have a more automated manufacturing system than us, it can be very complicated to make customised items. But we have an extremely flexible process that can be adapted for different customer requirements.”
According to Carlo, market demands vary considerably from country to country, which suits Club House’s flexibility.
“In Italy, a 70-cubic-centimetre espresso cup is by far the most important size. In other places though, the trends vary dramatically. The flat white is a very popular beverage in a lot of places, so for those we sell a lot of 200-cubic centimetre cups. There are also more niche markets like Holland, where a lot of people drink a double coffee which requires a 140-cubic-centimetre cup,” he says.
“As well as our main catalogue, some customers will make a specialised order for a small quantity of uniquely designed cups. Thanks to our flexible processes, we can do lots as small as 10,000 for customised shapes and 250 to have your logo onto our standard cups.”
After production, most of Club House’s products are sent to the company headquarters in Castegnato, Italy. The headquarters features a 5000-square-metre warehouse, office space, show room, logistics centre, and a research and development centre.
With the company currently manufacturing products that are used around the world in cafés, bars, and restaurants, Carlo says he is optimistic about growing the brand further and will be using trade shows to gain exposure to new markets.
“This year is very exciting as there is a huge opportunity to grow. There’s a lot to look forward to,” he says.
This article appears in the April 2020 edition of BeanScene. Subscribe HERE.
For more information, visit www.clubhouse.ch/en